Women in engineering Q&A

Contributed by Katherine Dewkett, Lynne Putnam, Kelly Rosofsky, Crystal Weatherington, Rachel Vandenberg, Josephine Schuster, Pamela Kistner & Jamie Moehling

By Dewberry August 1, 2018

In anticipation of International Women in Engineering Day on June 23, we asked women across our organization a few questions about their engineering experiences and advice they can give to incoming professionals.

When did you fall in love with engineering?

Katherine Dewkett, Senior Associate, Department Manager Site/Civil, New York

I was blessed to grow up in a family of engineers (my father, grandfather, uncle, brother, and husband are all engineers) so I cannot remember the "first" moment. However, I remember the moment that resonates the most. I was flying home from vacation into our local airport. Our flight path brought us over several large projects that I had the privilege to work on including access into the airport. It was then I realized the positive impact my profession had on the community.

Lynne Putnam, Senior Associate, Program Manager, Baltimore, Maryland

We lived on a hill, and when I was little I used to make channels and dams in the gutter with rocks after it rained. I grew up sailing and learned from my dad how to read the currents around the islands and watch how the tide and wind moved water around San Francisco Bay. Neither parent graduated from college. In high school we had a field trip to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Bay Model in Sausalito, California, which is when I realized this interest had a name: engineering! A lot of my parent’s friends were engineers, and when I was planning for college, they all said "Go for it!" including Ruth Schnapp, the second woman engineer to be registered in the state of California! So, it was not a sudden thing, just a slow realization that engineering was a path open to me if I was willing to work hard for it. Love came later after acing a hydraulics class midterm!

Kelly Rosofsky, Staff Engineer, Boston, Massachusetts

My mother and I used to watch "This Old House" together on Saturday mornings. It was a normal part of growing up for me, sharing interests with my mom, and we both loved that show! Years later, my high school was starting an engineering class and they asked me if I was interested. I was the first, and only, girl to take engineering that year. We built a full-scale trebuchet and entered ourselves into a pumpkin chuckin’ competition (I grew up in the country). Our teachers were crazy and launched televisions, old computer monitors, and other large farm produce, just to see what would happen. I was completely hooked and helped them to recruit other girls and create other courses for the next year.

Describe a challenge you’ve faced being a women in engineering, and how did you overcome that challenge?

Crystal Weatherington, Staff Engineer, Pensacola, Florida

Balance. Trying to find a balance between having a successful career and raising four children. Having a professional identity while maintaining my identity as a mother. What I have come to realize is that the balance usually isn’t split evenly. Understanding that there will be times when my family needs more attention and times when my career will demand more energy. I’ve stopped trying to keep the score 50/50. I constantly evaluate the needs of both and decide where I need to devote my attention. When life seems to be off-kilter, it usually means I need to readjust.

Rachel Vandenberg, Vice President, National Director, Ports and Intermodal, Long Beach, California

Being underestimated. Years ago, I had a client for whom I’d worked for nearly 10 years when he had a sudden a-ha moment, telling me "wow! I didn’t realize you were an engineer!" He had assumed I was a very well-prepped member of the support staff sent him to talk with him about our ongoing work, without noticing I was stamping and signing the plans. Luckily that happens with much less frequency in 2018 than it did in the early days of my career when there were few women engineers in the business. How did I overcome it? I delivered good work and didn’t let it get under my skin. Since those days, it has been a privilege to work with many talented women — we are all changing the perception of what it means to "look like an engineer."

Josephine Schuster, Senior Water Resources Engineer, Bloomfield, New Jersey

Returning to work with two kids in diapers ten years ago was challenging both because of a lack of sleep and incorporating nursing into my work schedule. I am delighted that Dewberry now provides lockable, private rooms for nursing moms to help in their transition back to work. A more recent challenge is not feeling intimidated when I’m the only woman engineer in project management meetings. Fortunately, the culture at Dewberry has always been supportive and has never held me back.

What’s a piece of advice you would give yourself five or ten years ago?

Pamela Kistner, Project Manager, Raleigh, North Carolina

Know what you don’t know. It is okay to not know the all the answers. Do tell someone that you will check and get back to them. Dewberry has wonderful resources in all areas. Use people in other departments and offices. And always learn!

Jamie Moehling, Graduate Engineer, Peoria, Illinois

You are not stuck! Open your eyes to a potential change in career. Engineering is THE MOST versatile career with skills that can be useful in a wide array of positions. Admit that you are bored, and find that new and exciting way to use your knowledge and experience. GO!

Katherine Dewkett, Lynne Putnam, Kelly Rosofsky, Crystal Weatherington, Rachel Vandenberg, Josephine Schuster, Pamela Kistner, & Jamie Moehling, contributors, Dewberry, a CFE Media content partner. This article originally appeared on Dewberry’s blog.