Women in engineering profile: Melissa Gannon
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 Melissa Gannon.
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: Melissa Gannon
Position: Engineering Sales Specialist, Victaulic, Easton, Pa.
CSE: What or who was your biggest motivation in becoming an engineer?
Gannon: In high school, I was very involved in physics, chemistry and calculus classes and very much enjoyed them. Specifically, my advanced placement (AP) physics class and teacher at the time were very influential in my decision to be an engineer and specifically aerospace engineering.
CSE: What advice would you give someone in high school about becoming an engineer? What resources or references would you suggest they look at?
Gannon: Develop a love for learning and curiosity. You must ask questions, be humble and be willing to admit you do not always have the answers. Apply curiosity to any part of your life and you will grow.
CSE: While you were in college, what helped shape your decision to specialize in your area of expertise?
Gannon: My dad always pushed me to challenge myself and was very influential in my decision to apply to North Carolina State University which had one of the best programs in the country. My love for flying influenced my decision to choose aerospace engineering but I also knew that choosing this major would provide me skillsets for any industry.
CSE: Do you have advice for young women just starting in the engineering field?
Gannon: When I first started my career, I always found that successful women in engineering were very motivated, detailed and focused. These three anchors contribute to developing passion for what you do and that is crucial no matter what job you have.
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?
Gannon: Specifically for women, we’re laying the groundwork for the women behind us. Like I said, graduating with 3 women out of 85—there aren’t a lot of us in the industry. You’re going to run into people who don’t respect ideas coming from a woman, because they’ve never worked with a woman in this industry before. They don’t know to respect their knowledge and input. I’ve seen that trend, over 6 years, already change. I haven’t met that many women in this field and so I’m trying to knock down barriers and make sure my voice is heard. But it’s going to take time to break through, and that’s one of the biggest challenges women are facing right now in the industry.
And as for general trends, the stagnation of being content with how things have always been is very common in our field. And it’s the worst thing that can happen at any engineering company or in any engineering industry. We can’t just be content with what we have. We have to keep pushing forward and challenging how things are done.
CSE: Describe an unusual project you worked on. What were the risks or challenges you took? Outline the success story.
Gannon: We recently worked on a 30-story building in North Carolina where the point load would not go to the bottom floor. This specific issue was a bit difficult to manoeuvre around but because of the resources we had at Victaulic we could find a solution. Another helpful aspect was being able to connect with the Victaulic sales team to determine if anyone else had experienced a similar issue. The key to finding the solution in this scenario was relying vast experience and expertise our teams had to be able to narrow down the options to solve the problem.
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.
Gannon: Work to gain as much hands-on experience as possible. Many times, things can work on paper and not in real life. Observing successful people around you is also important as you will be able to pick up on good habits that you can maybe incorporate into your own life. Join associations in your industry, I have been a part of ASHRAE and currently serve on the board. Being a part of this association has provided great networking opportunities and to be a part of industry specific conversations.
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?
Gannon: My biggest thing is being completely thorough and diligent in responding to their questions. That’s a philosophy I’ve taken with me as salesperson—be the person they look to with their questions. If they’re asking you questions, that means they respect your input. I think the best thing that you can do for yourself is to get on top of finding them an answer as soon as possible and then answering the entirety of their questions. That just hammers in that you are willing to go above and beyond to be their go-to resource. Once you’ve created that relationship with someone, they’ll always come back to you because they know you’ll do whatever it takes at the end of the day.
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?
Gannon: We recently came up with a solution for a hospital in North Carolina with an older HVAC system. We ended up replacing the entire system in house completely, trained their teams to install which overall reduced cost and provided a product that would be easy to repair and more cost effective. It was rewarding because it was not a typical project and we were able to teach the client along the way.
I would want people to know that I’m passionate about engineering and creating a better and more sustainable world and to understand the importance of this job as it impacts every person.