The worldwide campaign, International Day of Women and Girls in Science, is recognized every year on Feb. 11. The day honors the critical role women and girls play in science and technology, and with that in mind, we asked some of BPA’s female engineers to share their insights with girls and young women who are considering a STEM career.
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to a girl or young woman who is interested in pursuing engineering as a career?
Nancy: Don’t be discouraged; try it out and see if you like it. You could be scared, and trust me I was scared to enter a male-dominated field that is very math and study intensive, but please don’t be discouraged. Engineering will bring a lot of tears, and pain, but it can also be so rewarding when you finally get your code working or get your model to behave correctly. I whole-heartedly believe you don’t need to be the perfect student or the smartest in the room to be an engineer; anyone can be an engineer in their own right, with or without a degree, so give it a shot, and I wish you well on your STEM journey.
Jennifer: If the academic challenges and future work opportunities interest you, don’t hold yourself back.
Theresa: For a career in civil engineering, I would say you would have to love solving problems and putting the pieces together.
Joelle: I’d say don’t think twice about it. Do it. There are so many different types of engineering jobs. Challenges abound and opportunities are many
Natasha: Dream big and work hard. If you do that there is no limit in what you can achieve. The only limits we have are the ones we set on ourselves.
Danna: Believe in yourself. Engineering can be hard work but it is worth it. Working together solving problems is a great way to spend every day at work.
Tell us about a woman you’ve worked with whose influence changed how you approach life or work.
Nancy: Many women have influenced me in my life and work. For me to be successful in the workplace, I try to connect with the women on my team or in my organization to get a feel for the job. The reason I do that is because in this field you may be the only female or one of few in the room, so I seek other women who work in my job to remind myself I am not alone and there are people here rooting for me as I root for them.
Jennifer: I don’t consider myself a pioneer in any way in the engineering field. While I have not had senior mentors who were women, I have had some fantastic men who encouraged me, were willing to work with me, and who were not afraid to challenge me. What I have learned to do is make myself relevant by sharing both what I know and don’t know.
Theresa: I had a friend who was an engineer and I used her as a sounding board on how she was able to juggle her career with family. I took some of her advice as I navigated my career here at BPA.
Joelle: I worked with a great woman during my first job as an engineer. She was level-headed, articulate, thoughtful and funny. She could work with anyone, and she gracefully and logically, convinced people of the best way to get things done.
Natasha: My biggest influence was Maureen Girven, who managed the Dispatch and Service Department at Clark Public Utilities. When I worked there, she helped me understand the importance of work/life balance, pushed me to pursue my career ambitions and supported me when I was just starting to figure out what it was like to work in a male-dominant career field.
Danna: I have worked with a number of women at BPA who have incrementally changed my life. Each has offered me friendship and helped me learn and grow as a person and engineer.
Did you have a role model when you were growing up? How did they encourage you or influence you?
Nancy: When I was a young child, I would say Barbie was my role model because I love pink, being all girly, dressing up and I stood for Barbie’s slogan: “Girls can be anything.” As I grew older, I didn’t see Barbie so much as a role model but her slogan that girls can be anything stuck with me. I was a girl who loved math and was great at it, so I knew in my future I wanted a career with math, and even though people may have encouraged me to take other paths, in my head I knew I could do it. This probably stemmed from my youth when I saw that Barbie could do anything from being an astronaut, a scientist, model or fashion designer. Girls can do anything, and I am glad I choose to do engineering and have Barbie influence me in that way.
Jennifer: I grew up surrounded by strong women and an overall supportive family. My parents and grandparents never let gender stereotypes control destiny. My grandmother broke the mold by defying her family’s belief that girls were not made for careers outside of the home. She left the farm and put herself though post-secondary training to become a teacher. When I visited, it was routine to work on a math worksheet that she lovingly had ready for me. My grandfather, a Viking at heart, involved me in all of his Mr. Fix-it activities (e.g., crawling under the house, on the house, repairing small and large engines, etc.). He thickened my skin, readying me for working with often gruff linemen (don’t let them fool you, they have huge hearts). When my mom pulled a stint as a single parent, I learned the value of education about career opportunities. The dad who raised me, encouraged my involvement in sports that gave me the drive, communication skills and the teamwork needed to reach my goals and work well with others.
Theresa: I didn’t have any role models other than my parents. I worked in my dad’s engineering office as a materials tester and construction inspector … and realized I could be an engineer, too.
Joelle: My mother. She gave me candid advice when I was a teenager, regarding her assessment of my strengths. She encouraged me to do more and be more than I had ever thought about. She forced me to take more challenging classes in high school (math, science, public speaking). And, she introduced me to other engineers (men at that time) who gave me advice about which branch of engineering would have the best opportunities.
Natasha: My grandpa was my role model. He was always very calm and patient and very generous with both his physical possessions and knowledge. He was the hardworking person I have ever known. He always encouraged me to work harder to achieve my goals and to dream big.
Danna: My dad was probably my biggest influence about becoming an engineer; he was also an electrical engineer for a utility. My parents had high expectations (though not unrealistic) and encouraged me to work hard and follow my dreams.