Each month the ASCE News Civil Engineering Roundtable collects insights on important industry topics from a cross-section of prominent ASCE members.

Throughout the ASCE News Women in Civil Engineering series, the roundtable has dispersed wisdom about hope and challenges. In this edition, women look toward the future and offer advice to their younger peers.

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What advice would you give a young woman entering the civil engineering profession?

Bomar

Bomar

Marsha Anderson Bomar

AICP, ENV SP, F.ASCE, executive director, Gateway85, Norcross, GA

“If you like solving problems and want to be able to see your work turn into something real, this is the profession for you. There are so many different ways to use your knowledge and skills; be open to opportunities to learn and seize those to keep exploring until you find the path that truly suits you. Shadow others who are doing the tasks or the projects that you aspire to do, so you can learn what is required to be successful.”

Brown

Brown

Kim Parker Brown

P.E., F.ASCE, senior environmental engineer and program manager in the Environmental Restoration Division of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Headquarters, Washington, DC

“My advice would be to make sure to initially work as hard and diligently as you did when you were in college. The endurance that it took you to get through college should be shown in your work as you embark on your new career in civil engineering. You want to show that you are prepared for the job and make the employer confident in why they chose you for the position.

“Next, seek out a well-respected mentor at the organization. The mentor may not always be someone who looks like you, can be a male or female, young or seasoned, but someone who has made an impact on others at the organization.”

Pehlivan

Pehlivan

Menzer Pehlivan

Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, geotechnical engineer, CH2M, Seattle, WA

“Be assertive and understand your worth. Many successful women suffer from imposter syndrome, where they feel they are not good enough and their successes are the result of luck. Women, therefore, tend to undersell their capabilities, which lead them to not pursue some opportunities thinking they are not qualified enough. It is very difficult to overcome the imposter syndrome, but it would be helpful to have a mentor whose opinions you respect and who can remind you of your talent and capabilities.”

Davis

Davis

Veronica O. Davis

P.E., M.ASCE, co-founder/principal planning manager, Nspiregreen, Washington, DC

“My biggest advice would be to find mentors within the profession. Potential mentors would be people within your company, someone you met through a professional organization, former bosses, a leader in your industry, or someone you heard speak at a conference.

“I have had mentors who guided me through challenging career decisions, gave me insights on salaries, and provided me access to opportunities. Even to this day I have mentors who give me tough love when I needed it most, coach me out of my funks, and help me grow as a person and a leader.

“There will never be a one-size-fits-all mentor, and each relationship will look different. I have some mentors I’ve known for decades that I call on a few times a year and some that I meet with monthly. I have others where our relationship lasted a few coffees.”

Lehman

Lehman

Maria Lehman

P.E., M.ASCE, director of strategic initiatives, Ecology & Environment Inc., Orchard Park, NY

“Get as diverse a technical experience as you can early in your career, so you have a solid foundation in several areas. If you focus too much in one area, you will not have resilience when the market changes to move to another area of interest. Learn to be adaptable!

“Volunteer to tackle new challenges. Use your ASCE friends as sources and sounding boards to help you advance and show you how to succeed in new areas.

“In a perfect world, everyone should have a supervisor who cares about their staff development, but in the real world, sometimes that just doesn’t happen. You need to sell yourself and abilities to advance. Be respectful but assertive. And use ASCE to find mentors!”

Ziegler

Ziegler

Jennifer Sloan Ziegler

Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, project engineer, Waggoner Engineering, Jackson, MS

“Keep going. You are not in this alone.

“Breaking into engineering can seem like a daunting challenge, especially for young women just starting out in the traditionally male-dominated field. Keep going – do what you can to break through and find your voice in the profession. Be active in professional organizations such as ASCE, it can help you find your voice and feel comfortable exerting it.

“Find a mentor – they pick you up when you’re down, push you past where you think your limits are, celebrate your victories, provide sage guidance, and commiserate on your losses. In turn, mentor somebody else. You may not be where you think you should be, but you have so much to offer and somebody will benefit.”

Trabia

Trabia

Suzy Trabia

EIT, A.M.ASCE, Engineer II, Atkins, Las Vegas

“My advice to young women entering the civil engineering field is to not be afraid of taking on new challenges at work, learning new skills, and speaking up. Always take a seat at the table and share your unique ideas and perspective. Taking on challenges head-on will allow young women engineers to be heard and respected in their organizations.”

 

Montgomery-Mills

Montgomery-Mills

Shelia Montgomery-Mills

P.E., M.ASCE, senior project manager, Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex, president, Civil Construction Solutions, Birmingham, AL

“My advice to young women entering the civil engineering field is to proactively pursue learning from others involved in all phases of a project. I learned so much just from spending time on construction sites, watching how the work is performed, talking to the people doing the work, and asking a lot of questions. I feel that much of my success can be attributed to being willing to learn from everyone involved in a project – planning, design, through construction and owner occupancy.”

Luman

Luman

Rebecca Luman

P.E., M.ASCE, Healthy Tweaks LLC, Houston, TX

“Whenever possible, work for firms that have good mentoring programs. Be sure to take the time to visit with your mentor, learn from their experiences, set near- and long-term goals, and understand what it means to be a project manager before the opportunity arises for you to become one.

“Join your local ASCE branch and get involved. Then, choose at least one other non-technical/non-profit organization to be involved with to be able to ‘see’ outside the lens of an engineer.

“Start taking continuing education classes immediately after graduation. Hint: Your ASCE membership gives you five free courses a year.”

Marshall

Marshall

Lydia Marshall

A.M.ASCE, assistant engineer, City of San Diego

“Don’t be afraid of hard work, and be confident in yourself and in your abilities. Also, be curious and try to think a few steps ahead of every decision you make. These are the things that helped me tremendously in my development.”

 

Nelson

Nelson

Denise Nelson

P.E., ENV SP, M.ASCE, environmental engineer, The Berkley Group, Richmond, VA

“I’d encourage a young woman entering civil engineering to never stop networking. There are so many civil engineering sectors, numerous niches within each sector, and all types of companies in the industry. You can learn so much from other people’s experiences and lessons learned, so don’t be afraid to network. Asking questions is a great way to break the ice; consider:

• How did you get to this position?

• What advice would you give me?

• What does your day-to-day look like?

• Is there anything innovative that excites you right now?

• (and always save for last:) Can you recommend someone else I can talk with?”

Nitsch

Nitsch

Judy Nitsch

P.E., F.ASCE, founding principal, Nitsch Engineering, Boston, MA

“Get summer jobs during college and work at a design firm, a construction company, and an agency so you get a feel for each type of work and workplace. That will help you understand the material in your classes better and help you decide what kind of work you would like to do once you graduate. That experience will also make you much more employable!”

Valkanos

Valkanos

Thalia Valkanos

EIT, A.M.ASCE, legislative correspondent, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC

“In short: you are valuable and necessary. Never let anyone ever make you think otherwise. Also, become involved and active in ASCE! Meeting other women through ASCE from across the country has been inspiring and has served as a wonderful reminder of why I chose this career in the first place.”

2 Comments
  • I agree with the advantages of getting diverse experience early on in your career to develop a breadth of knowledge before specializing too much. Most of all, get into the field as much as possible to see how things are actually built — it will change the way you design. Volunteer for short term assignments where you get to experience something different, even if you “assume” you aren’t qualified.

    Don’t be afraid to be human either – only women can bear the babies for the family! It’s okay to focus on family when the time comes. If you take years off work til the kids are in school, it doesn’t mean you are wasting your education! You can have it all, but it’s a lot more rewarding to not try to have it all at once.

  • There are several great suggestions in this piece – but, what is missing in my opinion are ideas from male engineers! Women will be working with men so get some input from that perspective. I support the ideas of getting experience from several points-of-view: planners, developers, designers, owners, contractors, builders, and operators. I would also suggest that domestic and international experiences help young engineers get a better feeling for what type of work they enjoy. In addition, don’t feel like you are trapped in one path – if you don’t like the work, the location or the people you are working with – make a change!

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