August 19, 2007Her job: AdvanceVT Program Director, Virginia Tech
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I currently run a program to increase the number and success of women faculty in science and engineering. After working as an environmental engineer doing water and wastewater treatment plant design and hazardous waste cleanup work for seventeen years, I decided to work full time on increasing the participation of women and minorities in engineering, first at the National Academy of Engineering and now at Virginia Tech. I work with current deans, department heads, and faculty members to recruit more female faculty to the university and design and implement programs for current women faculty to support their career development. I also promote university policies that help both male and female faculty members to be successful in both their careers and their personal lives.
Why did you choose engineering?
I chose engineering because, growing up in the 1970s, I was very concerned about protecting the environment from pollution. I decided to become an engineer so that I could design systems to clean up waste and to produce less waste in the first place.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
I have a bachelor's degree from Vanderbilt University, a medium sized private university in Nashville, Tennessee. Vanderbilt was very progressive in recruiting female engineering students in the 1970s, and had a strong undergraduate program in environmental engineering. I have a master's degree from the University of North Carolina School of Public Health in Chapel Hill. The environmental engineering program there is only at the graduate level, and is the only engineering program on the Chapel Hill campus, so both of my degrees are from somewhat non-traditional engineering programs. At both schools I enjoyed the small classes and close interaction with the professors that smaller programs allow.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
I worked for several different consulting firms while I was doing environmental engineering, from a 200 person company to a 20,000 person company. At first I worked on small parts of big projects related to developing oil and gas from coal. Later I worked on the design of municipal water and wastewater treatment plants, then investigating old hazardous waste disposal sites and evaluating the damage they caused to human health and the environment. After I completed my master's degree and obtained my professional engineering license, I moved into a project management role, planning work and directing teams of engineers and scientists to complete the project. I've spent a lot of time writing plans and reports and making presentations to clients and regulatory agencies. Now I organize and manage different types of projects.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
I enjoy the variety of engineering work, interacting with smart people from different backgrounds, and knowing that the projects I work on are good for people and the environment.
Please tell us a little about your family.
I recently married a wonderful man who has two grown children and a young grandson. We enjoy taking the grandson to the park.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
When I was in high school, I attended a nature study camp that encouraged my interest in science and taught me about the problems of pollution and the need for action to clean up and protect the environment. That experience drove my desire to work in pollution control and environmental cleanup. After I started my career and got involved in the Society of Women Engineers, the wonderful women I met there encouraged me to take on more responsibilities and to reach out to help younger women learn about and succeed in engineering careers.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
I would encourage young women considering a career in engineering to try to meet some engineers, and check out the book "Changing Our World:True Stories of Women Engineers"
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
My hobbies include singing in a local community chorus, sailing with my husband, and learning to cook local vegetables. I work out at the gym and volunteer at the nature study camp I attended as a teenager.