Janelle Leafblad

Current Position: Senior Staff II – Building Technology at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger
Janelle Leafblad
Highlight As a child, I had a poster hanging in my room that read “Little Girls with Dreams Become Women with Vision”. One thing I’ve learned is that it is OK for dreams of your career and life to change or mature. Pursuing an engineering degree is a great first step to turning your dreams into a future full of possibilities.
Her job: Senior Staff I – Building Technology, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger
Describe what you do in your current work situation? I work for Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc. (SGH) – a national engineering firm that designs, investigates, and rehabilitates structures and building enclosures. I have designed wall and roof cladding components; investigated the condition of historic structures, stadiums, and resorts; and managed the construction administration of projects large and small. It’s not a normal office job. Some workdays you can find me out on site in full investigation mode – hanging off the sides of buildings on ropes, scaling scaffolding, riding lifts and swingstages, and getting wet and dirty. While on other days, I write technical reports for clients as well as research papers. I give lectures and seminars worldwide. I also help recruit and mentor the next generation of engineers.
Why did you choose engineering? At first I was interested in architecture, but soon I realized that all my not-so-artistic drawings were basically boxes as I couldn’t abide the thought of wasted space! Then I attended an engineering summer exploration program during high school and my mentor told me something that changed my career path: “If you look around the world and wonder, ‘How does that work?’ you might be an engineer.”
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have? I have a B.S. in Architectural Engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering and a M.S. in Wood Science and Technology from the University of California, Berkeley.
What do you like best about being an engineer? I like knowing that the work that we do makes a difference – structures are safer, less windows and roofs will leak (leading to healthier environments for building occupants), and buildings and materials will last longer.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of? Obtaining my professional engineering license in California and working as a team member on several award-winning projects.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career? I confess that I have never really been all that fond of math and science classes. I struggled through the basics as if I were climbing a mountain, but once I got to advanced math I had more fun. Outside of school, I soon found that engineering is less about traditional math and science than it is about understanding relationships (between materials and systems) and effective communication.
Please tell us a little about your family. I am married (to an electrical engineer) and we have two little boys. Every day is a new adventure for toddlers and it is so much fun seeing the world through their fresh eyes.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals? My short-term work goals are to write several papers and give presentations on my areas of expertise to continue to increase my internal and external professional recognition. My long-term life goals are to challenge myself to take more risks personally and professionally. I would like to start a small side business and I would like to teach at the college level.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices? My family, of course, is encouraging and inspiring! But friends, co-workers, and mentors have played a big role in helping show me the wealth of career path choices and challenge my thinking.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering? Make opportunities for yourself! Call up office managers at local businesses to ask if any young professionals might be interested in having you shadow them.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book. I love to read and I collect children’s literature to share my favorites with my kids. I have “comfort books” that I enjoy re-reading like The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley.