A day in the life of a mechanical engineer
Lauren Blas is out to challenge some of the biggest misconceptions of the engineering industry. A self-proclaimed foodie and nature enthusiast, Lauren explains how incorporating personal passions in her work has become her recipe for career success at CannonDesign.
Did you always want to be an engineer?
I often mentor high school and college kids, so I get this question a lot. But yes, I knew I wanted to be an engineer from a very young age. My father is a geotechnical engineer. When I was in seventh and eighth grade, I was in the Future City competition, and my dad coached our team. It was a great experience that really inspired me at a young age.
So with my father’s guidance, Future City, and some fantastic science teachers, I was always encouraged to get into the technical and problem-solving side of things. And that’s what I really love about engineering on a day-to-day basis. Especially in our industry-it’s never the same thing every day, it’s always something different.
What does your typical day look like at CannonDesign?
It really depends on the day. Some days I am out on a jobsite talking to contractors and figuring out problems in the field, which I really enjoy. But I also love those days when I am trying to solve a design challenge at my desk-bringing out the trace paper and just sketching out ideas. Going through that iterative design process is a lot of fun.
I often collaborate with our architects, and that’s why I love working at an integrated firm. I really value their input, so being able to join forces on a design solution and present that to a client is really gratifying. The breadth of projects we can do is so varied. We do everything here, so it never gets boring.
Do you have a specialty area as an engineer?
As the sustainability leader for the Buffalo office, I focus a majority of my time on sustainability, ensuring that all of our projects are incorporating sustainable strategies from the get-go. I am also responsible for managing LEED documentation and industry trends. The great thing about working here is that we integrate sustainability into our projects every single day in everything we do.
The remainder of my time is truly mechanical engineering, but I have started to specialize in the design of culinary facilities. I love to cook and I love to eat, so designing those projects has been a lot of fun. It has been a great experience working with the clients on these projects. They tend to be very demanding in that industry and they know exactly what they want. So, working with them to come up with creative solutions is both challenging and rewarding.
Is sustainability a personal passion?
Absolutely. I have been fortunate to have Eric Lindstrom as one of my mentors. Following in his footsteps, I am incorporating something I feel so passionately about into my career. I feel personally responsible for educating our clients about the importance of sustainability early on and in all aspects of the project. It’s great getting in front of the client and being able to explain how we can make small tweaks that can have a huge impact on the building performance. This is one of the great benefits of working at an integrated architecture/engineering firm. We are integrated for a reason, and that helps our clients see the value in involving engineers from the beginning of the design process.
I’m also involved in our Environmental Awareness Week (EAW), which the firm has been running for 15 years now. We have had some great speakers with some really interesting topics as a way to educate everybody in the firm. And there are exciting developments for next year that we are looking to integrate, possibly even a design competition. Just as LEED and sustainability have evolved, so has EAW, and it’s a great way to educate our staff and differentiate ourselves.
What do you feel is the biggest misconception about engineers?
That we are all nerds. I mean, I guess in some ways we are a bit nerdy. But seriously, I think the biggest misconception, especially among young kids, is that we just do calculus. I go into high schools and speak to students about what engineering is. I explain to them that everything in your classroom has been engineered, from the desks to the air conditioner to the lights. And then they realize that it is harder to find something that has not been engineered.
The second biggest misconception is that it is a profession for men, which is one of the reasons why I am involved with the Buffalo Women in STEM organization. Our major initiatives include advocacy and education, specifically targeting early to mid-career women and women in career transition. We want to help them find resources for what’s out there in STEM in hopes of raising the profile of females in this industry.
And lastly, what we do as engineers is a lot of fun, and I think people don’t realize that. There are always unique problems to solve, and it’s about a lot more than just math and science. You don’t have to be Einstein to be an engineer. You have to be a good problem solver, and that’s the bottom line.