Women in engineering profile: Meetra McDonie

International Women in Engineering Day, celebrated on June 23, 2018, celebrates the achievements of females in various engineering industries. Here’s a Q&A with Meetra McDonie.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 22, 2018

To honor International Women in Engineering Day, Consulting-Specifying Engineer asked select people to answer questions about their background and mentors and their career path. Here’s a Q&A with one of them.

Name: Meetra McDonie

Position: Senior Power System Engineer, Schneider Electric, Lexington, Ky.

Education: Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, Master of Science in Electrical Engineering, both degrees from the University of Kentucky (UK).

CSE: What or who was your biggest motivation in becoming an engineer?

McDonie: Both my father and older brother are engineers, and I think that largely influenced my decision to start my college career in engineering. Growing up I was always impressed with their ability to face an everyday problem and know that with enough effort, they were capable of solving the issue by any means necessary. It started with that, but once I started working through the curriculum of my education, I quickly came to appreciate the opportunity and diversity of the field and realized the impact engineering innovation has on our day to day lives. It was exciting to think about having a hand in changing the shape of society, and that later served as motivation to engage in different research projects throughout my college education.

CSE: What advice would you give someone in high school about becoming an engineer? What resources or references would you suggest they look at?

McDonie: In high school, it’s hard to know what will lead to a fulfilling life and career 5 to 10 years down the road, but I think conquering the basics is critical for future successes and a lot of that can be done in high school. Making efforts to take as many STEM-based classes as possible and trying to narrow down what is interesting and exciting is a great first step. With so many new technology-based clubs and programs that give hands-on experience throughout K-12, as well as science and engineering-based camps offered by universities and industry-based programs, it’s an easy way to explore and get a picture of what engineering is first hand before committing to a specific degree. I think that human nature is inherently curious, but for whatever reason, people learn or are taught to just settle with not knowing or accept that there is an answer but if it’s not immediately attainable, it’s not worth investigating. I think my biggest advice to students would be to stay curious and take advantage of the resources and support of the teachers and programs offered at their school.

CSE: While you were in college, what helped shape your decision to specialize in your area of expertise?

McDonie: The curriculum in my program at UK allowed for a lot of flexibility with the electrical engineering courses that qualified and were offered that really empowered the students to explore the diversity of the field. With that, I made a point of taking as many different classes as I could and those experiences ultimately led me to seek out classes and projects in power. My senior design project was sponsored by a local utility company and it was during that process I realized that the power industry was the avenue I wanted to pursue after my college career.

CSE: Do you have advice for young women just starting in the engineering field?

McDonie: I think there is still a distorted stigma that the engineering fields are overly difficult and not very exciting, and with the added factor of being male-dominated, it can be a very intimidating sector for young women to enter. Through my experiences though, I’ve found it to be quite the opposite. Now more than ever, the support and awareness around the importance of balancing the scales has created an abundance of opportunities that were likely not available even 10 years ago.

I credit a lot of my success to the support of my professors and their assistance as both an educational and career advisor. The professors I encountered were strong advocates for their students and were capable of opening doors that, for me especially, would not have been accessible otherwise. I would recommend getting to know the professors in the program, finding out what research they perform outside of the classroom, and seeing how to get involved. I made the mistake of thinking I needed more advances courses before getting involved in those opportunities, but more often than not, experience-based training was enough to get started.

CSE: What trends or challenges do you foresee in your field? What advice would you give to others to help adapt to these types of changes?

McDonie: I think a good way to measure future trends or challenges in my field is keeping a pulse on the issues we’re facing as a society today and in the future. I think the scope of engineering is constantly shifting based on our needs as humans, whether that’s investing in alternative energy sources in an effort to address climate change, using innovation to address future food supply while also accommodating a growing population, advancing modern medicine or techniques used for treatment, or preventing cyberattacks in an age that is so heavily reliant on technology, and all of these problems require a strong growing engineering workforce across all of the disciplines. I think above all, this is a necessary reason to encourage the younger generator to explore the STEM fields and help strengthen everyone’s future.

CSE: Are there professional development tips you can offer other female engineers? What helped lead to your success? This might include public speaking courses, working with a mentor, or some other advice.

McDonie: I was fortunate in having really wonderful advisors throughout college that encouraged me to participate in opportunities that would normally be outside of my comfort zone. Whether it was presenting at large conferences or collaborating with groups outside of the College of Engineering, I was put in a position where my voice and work held value and those experiences left a lasting impression on me as a young engineer. I really can’t emphasize enough how valuable those opportunities were and I would encourage all engineers to get involved in similar ways.

Communication is such a sought-after skill, and one that I’m required to be proficient in on a daily basis in my role, so I think taking advantage of communication classes while in school is also essential. Public speaking is certainty a great way to get over those initial fears and bolster confidence, but even communication in small groups can be a helpful way of learning how to be an effective and efficient communicator.

CSE: Many manufacturers want to be seen as the go-to resource for mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), or fire protection engineers. How do you work with these consulting engineers to ensure you’re seen as a thought leader?

McDonie: In my opinion, the best way to collaborate with people from different backgrounds is showing the significance in your own experience and leveraging that knowledge to help achieve the same goal that everyone is working towards while also respecting the experience others may have as well. It’s not uncommon to face both challenging issues and challenging people on a job but learning how to communicate effectively and being able to present solutions in a productive manner has always proved to be a successful method for me.

CSE: In your job, what’s the one thing you are most proud of? What do you want people to take away about you and your profession after meeting you only briefly?

McDonie: Being a power system engineer means analyzing electrical systems and making recommendations to allow for effective operation of the system while protecting personnel working on the equipment as well as protecting the equipment itself. I also point out potential issues within the electrical system and determine ways to solve those concerns before they can become a serious problem. Another key piece of performing my job effectively is staying up to date with current and future technological advances within the power industry. These developments typically offer solutions for our customers to improve overall safety at their facilities and act as a necessary tool for me to utilize during the recommendation process. For me, the biggest source of pride is knowing that the decisions I make on a job can directly affect the livelihood of another person in a positive way, and that is an aspect of my work that I take very seriously. I think the pressure of negatively impacting a person’s life has aided in my development as a detail-oriented worker and is a facet of my career that I am continually improving upon.