INA, Ill. (Nov. 29, 2016) - Infrastructure is a pretty vital component to a functioning city. So, who does Chicago turn to when they need to replace 2,000 miles of gas mains, some of which date back to the Lincoln administration? RLC alumna Elizabeth “Liz” Nielsen, of course.
Liz, daughter of RLC Dean of Applied Science Chris Nielsen, was recently promoted to Construction Project Manager for Peoples Gas, the natural gas utility in Chicago. She is now tasked with working on the System Modernization Program, an effort to replace aging cast iron gas mains with plastic mains. Some of the lines are so old, they were used when the city streets were still lit with gas lanterns.
Nielsen, a self-professed “Herrin Tiger,” transitioned to Rend Lake College out of high school to develop her college course foundation. Despite the fact that her father worked for the college, Liz said there was never any pressure for her to transition to RLC.
“My parents never pressured me to choose any specific school. As I remember, it was an open discussion about all of my options. I had also received some academic scholarships to universities, but I don’t think I was ready to give up on sports just yet. They had been a major part of my life since childhood, so I couldn’t picture myself as just a student, and not a student-athlete,” she explained.
Her involvement in sports ended up being a vital experience for her during her RLC career, forging memories, skills and friendships that she maintains to this day.
“First and foremost, a great deal of my friendships throughout my life have been with my teammates. Constantly living, traveling, and practicing with them led to some great memories,” she said.
“Aside from sentimental reasons, I also believe my time as a student-athlete helped make me a better employee and leader. Everything from time management, networking, teamwork, and even mental toughness were thrust upon me very early, and I was forced to adapt quickly.”
As for going to school where your dad works—
“I was mostly indifferent. He did his thing - I did mine, and we occasionally got lunch together,” she joked.
She encouraged students to be proactive, “You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. You just have to show up and work hard. I would also encourage students to pursue internships to get valuable real-life experience.”
During college, Nielsen interned with the Illinois Department of Transportation. She is confident that that opportunity directly contributed to her being hired at her current position.
After RLC, Nielsen transferred to the University of Illinois where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering. After graduation, she moved to the city and began her career, enjoying a field that keeps her thinking and adapting.
A natural passion of building propelled Nielsen to the Engineering field.
“I always liked building things as a kid. I was usually playing with Legos or designing a SimCity. As I got older, my parents encouraged me with Math and Science, and everything combined for a natural fit - probably just like they planned!” she joked.
Now, she’s busy building and coordinating projects in real life, putting that initial love into professional action.
“In my time with Peoples Gas, I have held various engineer roles. All of the different aspects of being an engineer keeps me constantly engaged. One day I’m wearing a hard-hat and boots, and the next I’m in heels and a skirt,” she explained.
While she is now a full-fledged city girl, Southern Illinois is never far from her thoughts.
“I love living in the city. Besides the fact that Chicago held more career opportunities for me, I am also the type of person that needs to be pushed out of my comfort zone to feel successful and valued. I visit home every few months, so thankfully I’m never very far away.”