International Women in Engineering Day – SEH Female Leaders Share Experiences, Guidance

June 23, 2020

International Women in Engineering Day is a global awareness campaign that seeks to raise the profile of female leaders in engineering, and "celebrates the outstanding achievements of women engineers throughout the world."

The 2020 theme of #ShapetheWorld looks to provide a platform for women in engineering to share their stories along with how they have helped make our planet safer and more innovative.

In honor of this day, we asked some of SEH's talented female engineers and A/E leaders to share their experiences, accomplishments, guidance and advice.

 

Melanie Crape

Melanie Crape, Architectural Designer

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Don't doubt yourself; even the smallest-seeming steps will take us forward. If you can't reach out to large groups of people, try and find at least one conversation with a young or not so young woman to encourage them on their path to engineering. Listen to all opinions, even the ones you may not agree with or you don't understand at first. The broader your exposure, the more comprehensive your solutions can be.

How can others in the industry, including us at SEH, help to "raise the profile of women in engineering"?
I think it would be most beneficial to help kids as young as kindergarten ages understand what kind of person it takes to be an engineer, architect or scientist. Teaching young girls that all engineers, scientists and architects started out coloring with crayons, building towers with building blocks and having to learn how to count to 10 just like any other child – that's how we can teach children that our professions are within their reach no matter their gender or ethnicity.

It would be wonderful to see groups of engineers speaking in front of grade school classes – letting rooms full of kids know that they are already using their S.T.E.A.M. skills (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) daily just by paying attention to which glue works best for paper compared to Popsicle stick art; counting or sorting the money in their piggy banks; rearranging their rooms to be more functional; or deciding on the best ratio of milk to chocolate powder when making chocolate milk.

As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?
It can be difficult to overcome the stereotypes that were ingrained in me and others growing up. There are many teachers, professors, engineers, designers, foremen and construction workers still out there who have been raised to believe that a woman’s place is at home, and if not at home then at least in a profession traditionally labeled as more compatible with a woman’s “natural inclination.”

I have personally been confronted with statements such as, “If this class is too difficult for you, maybe you should drop out, stay home and have a few kids.” I opted to stay in school, face those tough classes and follow my dream of working in architecture – while still being lucky enough to call myself a mom of two awesome kids, with a husband who fully supports me on my continuing path to becoming an architect.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Anytime I get to see one of the projects I've worked on being built – watching it go from an idea on paper to a muddy construction site, from there to a building that will be there for me and others to see and touch for years to come, serving the community. Those are some of my proudest moments and make all the time spent in school well worth it.

 

Tracy Pinkowski

Tracy Pinkowski, Senior Professional Engineer

Delafield, Wisconsin

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Obtain an advanced degree in your field of specialty, or a Master of Business Administration as soon as possible after your Bachelor’s degree. Higher education and professional licensure will provide many more opportunities. Volunteer in your professional organizations; you will forge strong relationships with your colleagues. Ask a lot of questions, and don’t be afraid to ask hard questions in a professional manner. Be honest, humble and respectful to all others and their ideas.

How can others in the industry, including us at SEH, help to "raise the profile of women in engineering"?
Increase publication of the accomplishments of women engineers. Promote opportunities, and allow time for women engineers to speak/volunteer at public events, schools and clubs within their communities.

As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?
I don’t think of issues or items as barriers, I view them as challenges that can be very rewarding once overcome. I enjoy earning the respect of my colleagues, clients and the public, because I firmly believe that earned respect is much more valuable than respect that is just given. I prefer this because it allows for the opportunity to form stronger relationships than you may have otherwise.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Obtaining my Master’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in one and a half years – while also holding a teaching assistant position, a research assistant position, and working part-time as an engineer at the U.S. Geological Survey!

 

Amber Prescott

Amber Prescott, Director of Business Development, SEH Design|Build, Inc.

Denver, Colorado

How can others in the industry, including us at SEH, help to "raise the profile of women in engineering"?
Working in the engineering field has been a very exciting and rewarding career path for me. As a young girl, my Dad helped shape my interest and passion for building. He encouraged me to help him with projects on our cars and around the house. Even while camping we built furniture out of trees that had fallen! I was always amazed at how he could fix and build almost anything. The fact that my Dad had the desire to teach and the patience to help me learn changed my life.

As a woman, I feel just as confident on a job site as I do in a boardroom. I’m inspired every day by our architects, engineers and trades and how they shape all of our lives. We need to encourage young women to explore their interests, learn diverse skills and have fun while doing so. You never know how a simple building project might inspire them to find a career in the engineering field!

As leaders, we need to encourage young professionals to explore a career in the engineering field. There are several paths for success and many don’t require an engineering degree. While there have been challenges to overcome throughout my career, I have found other professionals in this industry to be just as encouraging as my Dad was. I can’t imagine working in any other field.

 

Sue Walan

Sue Walan, Senior Professional Engineer

Pueblo, Colorado

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Get a good education! Then, get the appropriate professional certification as soon as possible. It’s also important to have a good sense of humor and not take yourself too seriously.

How can others in the industry, including us at SEH, help "raise the profile of women in engineering"?
Photos and videos released to the public need to show women working alongside men. Young girls and young women need to see as many career paths as possible, and know that they are available to them.

As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?
When I first started out in engineering, in the 1970s, it was assumed that I couldn't work in the field. It appears, to me, that men are assumed to be competent until proven otherwise, while women are often not believed to be competent until they prove it.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Passing my Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, on my first try, to become a professional engineer!

 

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