#EngineerGirlShow highlights amazing women in engineering to inspire the next generation. This series was produced by George Retelas with his digital art students at SAE Institute.
Watch an interview with Tracy Johnson from BART in the San Francisco Bay Area.
My name is Tracey Johnson and I work as an engineering manager for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District.
What made you choose engineering?
High school, senior year, I had registered in nursing and my physics teacher said “why don't you try engineering?” So over the summer I rode my bicycle down to the campus, to the university to say “what does an engineer do?” And had that science teacher never said “why don’t you check it out” I may never, could have been a totally different story.
What made you choose the civil and structural engineering?
I have a fascination with bridges. I'm a bridge buff.
So did you do any big science projects that you remember?
Back when I was in school, they were really into dissecting. So we dissected so many things and I was really into that.
And after high school what college did you go to?
I got my bachelor's degree in Madison in civil and environmental engineering. Then I worked for a few years and then I came back to school, got a master's degree back in Madison.
Do you have one specific story or some event that you remember that kind of made you realize that you really wanted to do this job?
Yeah, I was in graduate school October 17th and I had sat down to watch the World Series. [World Series clip showing earthquake during game] I didn't realize it, but that triggered something in me. And a few months later I was working in Chicago and the company that I worked with in Chicago said, “hey they need engineers out in California for the retrofit for the clean up after Loma Prieta. You know anybody interested?” I'm like [raises hand]. That was a big, you know, game changer for me. It's like all of a sudden I was, you know, working with a bunch of really great people doing really great stuff.
So who are some of the people that inspired you along the way?
I was inspired by Julia Morgan, who was a combination of an architect and an engineer, did a lot of work like for Randolph Hearst and a lot of buildings around Berkeley. She was pretty amazing.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your career or any advice?
I think sometimes you feel... A woman will say something, you often, even today what you hear is “I think what she means is…” You know? So it's like they have to reinterpret it for their friends, the other guys in the room you know, so that, because they apparently didn't understand? We all think it's, “jeez that's exactly what I said, why didn't they hear?” It's not you, it's them. It's how they hear or don't hear. Sometimes they just need to hear it from another man for it to sink in. It's an interesting phenomenon. It's a little frustrating, you know, but just remember it's not you. Just hang in there, keep going, and you'll get past it and you'll move on.
I have one last question. Would you like to go on a train ride with me?
Yeah, if we can ride up it with the driver in the front!
Cool! Thank you so much.