Janelle Leafblad

Janelle Leafblad

West Coast Central Regional Director
WoodWorks - Wood Products Council
Livermore, CA, United States
Janelle Leafblad
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A California licensed professional engineer, Janelle has been an active building technology consultant since 2002, primarily in the area of wood technology and durability, investigation and design of building envelope components, and construction for both historic and contemporary structures. She earned her BS in Architectural Engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering and her MS in Wood Science and Technology from the University of California at Berkeley.
BS in Architectural Engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering MS in Wood Science and Technology from the University of California at Berkeley
  • I am willing to be contacted by educators for possible speaking engagements in schools or in after school programs or summer camps.
Answers by Janelle Leafblad

Hi Andres! Thanks for the question! I became interested in material science, and wood in particular, when one of my fantastic undergraduate professors helped me apply to a job working for the summer at the USDA Forest Products Lab.  It was there I really began to understand just how much we use wood and wood products in our every day lives as designers but we're taught SO LITTLE about the materials themselves. (This is the thing about fantastic professors - they not only teach you their subject, they show you how much MORE there is to know and seek out on your own.) From there I took another summer position at the University of Maine's Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center (now called Advanced Structures and Composites Center) where I saw first hand the synergy that is possible between diverse disciplines - chemists, wood scientists, civil engineers - all working together to develop the research and testing that takes a material to new levels. This led to graduate study in wood science and a career combining wood science with forensic engineering.  Now I'm a little corner of the "wood revolution" as architects and engineers take wood to new heights (look up the 14 story Treet building currently under construction in Norway and watch Michael Green's TEDTalk on wood skyscrapers.)

All of this to say, I fell in love with wood in the lab and made a successful career out of that love in the construction and design industry. I've also enjoyed connecting with other material scientists over the years - those in glass, metal, and petrography. It may seem counter-intuitive that such a narrow focus on one specific material has led all of us in so many different directions with exciting opportunities for collaboration. 

Good luck with all your studies! Get involved, in and out of the lab, in all that interests you.

Thanks for this great question, Jenna! I believe there are many opportunities available that are compatible with your interests. I would encourage you to look into: Construction Engineering and Management, Forest Engineering, Surveying, and branches of Civil/Environmental Engineering such as geotechnical and water resources. All of these programs and professions have an increased amount of outdoor site work.

Additionally, with regards to engineering office work, I’ve noticed that the ‘typical’ office environment is changing with increased use of mobile applications for project engineering. I have had the opportunity to do a great deal of site work but instead of returning to the office to write a report or draw a detail, I am able to do more of that work right there in the field. In the office, spaces are becoming more collaborative and walls are coming down.

Good luck with your senior year and college/career search!

Autumn, Yes, you are being absolutely realistic that you can do this! There will be obstacles, hardships, and sacrifices along the way but there will also be help to overcome them and support to sustain you through them. I think you will be inspiring to be so brave as to take steps even small, slow steps towards the life and career you really want. I speak from experience as my mother returned to school when I was young. She made college look fun and her challenges grew great rewards for our family. My advice is to get all the information about your degree and the type of employment you will be looking for upfront. These are going to start to look like impossible hurdles but the more you know, the more you can prepare. For instance, depending upon the type of engineer youd like to become, a bachelors degree may not be enough to get you an entry level position. Also, new employees are typically expected to have the steepest learning curve and employers will want you to do some level of travel and work longer hours. College does not completely prepare you for engineering work; in fact your role as an Office Manager has probably taught you more about people skills and project management skills youll need in any employment and highly marketable for engineers. Find out from the colleges youll be applying to who the academic advisors are and ask to schedule a meeting with them. Have a frank discussion about your goals and commitments. As soon as you begin classes, reach out to your colleges alumni office and ask them to set you up with a mentor or join a program like MentorNet that focuses on women in engineering. Best wishes to you on this journey!