Athletic fields are this civil engineer’s turf

There’s more to a sports playing field than meets the eye. Just ask Megan Buczynski, former long-time defender and team captain, who earned First-Team All Ivy while playing field hockey at Brown. She knows the importance of a responsive surface, especially with the artificial turf, as more and more athletic facilities are converting to synthetic grass.

Buczynski, 30, leads sports design projects at Stantec, a planning and landscape architecture firm in Boston, often drawing upon her athletic background in her work. She has designed artificial grass fields like Mount Holyoke College’s outdoor stadium, as well as many other softball, rugby, and track and field facilities.

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At Mount Holoyoke, Buczynski modified the playing surface by filling in the turf with more infill to create a smoother, quicker surface that would be more realistic for field hockey. Much of her job entails educating clients that the rigid, tough Astroturf of the past can’t be compared with new next-generation natural synthetic, grass-like polyethylene fibers, cushioned by soil made of a rubber and sand.

“My sports background definitely helps understand project needs, as well as connect with clients,” said Buczynski, who said the sports angle of her civil engineer job “popped up as a surprise. Whatever your personal passions are, there is a field of engineering where you can apply all of your skills. When I was looking for jobs, I searched for engineering and sports, and was delighted to find athletic facilities as a special niche service of the design world.”

Q: You’re working on a few synthetic turf renovations, changing natural grass field to synthetic turf. What goes into these revamps?

A: A lot of it is the permitting process, land development, and sitework, figuring out water drainage patterns, leveling the field, and installing the new system. The actual design can take about three months, with construction completed in about 16 weeks. Teams are delighted to find the new surface requires less maintenance and offers more consistent playing conditions, no matter what the weather.

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Q: What are some details that go into multi-sports fields?

A: Synthetic grass fields use different colors for inlaid game markings, which can be confusing. We need to figure out what are the right boundaries and lines to show, while making it easier on the athlete while playing. Some teams decide to share lines between sports, and we can butt lines to make the field more aesthetically pleasing, such as matching soccer’s 18-yard box with the 10-yard line for football.

Q: You are a woman in a still male-dominated field. What advice would you give to current and aspiring female engineers?

A: Women interested in engineering should not only work on their technical foundation, but also develop their soft skills. The importance of being a good written and verbal communicator is invaluable in this profession.

Q: Can you walk into an athletic field without evaluating it?

A: It’s funny, just watching games on TV, I’ll sit with my husband and say, ‘Oh, that’s this kind of turf.’ I’m definitely more critical now that this is my profession.

Q: You just had a baby. A future engineer in the making?

A: Engineer or doctor. I’ll take either one.