August 28, 2007Her job: Principal Engineer, Bechtel National, Inc.
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I use computers to simulate fluid flow, heat transfer and mixing. I work for a construction company and sometimes we build things that are very complex. Because they are complex we need to model the objects in a computer to see what will happen when we actually build it. An example is when we model the fluid flow through all of the pipes that you see at oil or gas refineries. Another example is to model the flow of the water in the locks in the new Panama Canal. These are so big that we need to model them first to make sure that they work before actually building them.
Why did you choose engineering?
I like to see how math makes our world a better place. Engineering is applying math to problems to find solutions. Engineering is applying an abstract idea into a real physical solution, like a car, a bridge or a house. I want to be the person who takes math and makes it into something that helps people and our different societies all over the world.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
I attended Ogden High School in Ogden, UT. I earned my Bachelor of Science at Weber State Univ in Ogden, UT. I then earned a Master of Science and a PhD degree at the Univ of Utah in Salt Lake City, UT. You don't have to go the big schools to get an excellent education and make a real contribution to your own life and to society.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
I work at a computer most of the day doing simulations. I show my results to a customer to make sure that I am doing what they want. I enjoy making the presentations and presenting my information to others. I also participate in testing fluids and get to go outside and test big sized objects. An example is a pulse jet mixer. This vessel is 40 ft high and 34 feet in diameter. It is huge! We get to blow the liquids around in that vessel at high speeds and it is really fun and you learn so much. Because my company is worldwide, I get to travel to meet customers and look at the construction so that I know how to model it in my computer. And always, lots of solving of math and understanding what the math is showing you in the real world.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
I enjoy taking math and turning it into a bridge or a tunnel. Math is hard, frustrating, abstract and very beautiful and enlightening. I like the reward I get inside myself from solving a hard problem and seeing how it makes the design better or more safe. Engineering shows you how to balance man-made structures with nature. Engineering teaches you how to fix things or make them work. Once you understand engineering then you become good at problem solving in your personal life too. Engineering contributes in a positive way to people and society. I want to know that I earn money by doing a job that contributes to the good of others.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
I received my PhD when I was 40. I was able to get approval to purchase our first 100 core computing cluster for simulations. I get better and better each year at not only working hard but working smarter.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
It was hard to pay for my own schooling, plan my future without the help of parents or counselors and then in graduate school find advisors who had funding. It was very hard to work and go to school at the same time. Going back to school after being 7 years away from it was hard. I was not as fast or as astute as I was years earlier. I had to work harder for the A and learn to live with a B or a C (I used to be a straight A student). I had to convince myself that I could still be an asset to any company even though I did not have the highest grades.
Please tell us a little about your family.
I came from a poor family and was on welfare for many years. I did not live in good neighborhoods and sometimes lived in motels. We traveled a lot and so I went to many different schools. I had little support from my family in any aspect of my life.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
Short term - I am in my first Project Management role on a particular testing program. I want to stay with this program until the finish to be able to own it's successes and failures. Long term - I want to become one of the vice presidents of the company.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
My grandfather only had an 8th grade education but he still loved to learn. He and I discussed EVERYTHING. He was a very loving man so besides his love for knowledge, he loved people and nature. He was a very hard worker. I have an older sister who also loved to learn. She taught me common sense and savvy. She is a very hard worker. A friend also taught me how to make life full of wonderful things to do and to not get stuck sitting around at home. Another friend taught me to accept my accomplishments and to accept praise from others.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
I have very seldom encountered sexism on my way through school even though I worked with nearly 99% men all of the time. I chose my advisors and study companions well so that I was almost always treated as an equal. In what ever you do in life pay attention to the up front preparation. Put yourself in a place to succeed and seek out those who will help you along. Fortune favors the prepared. Engineering is hard but rewarding. I always went the extra mile on homework and now for my job. People will tell you to just do enough. I have found that I have experienced more and had more opportunities because I was more prepared.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
I enjoy traveling to see new sites and meet new people, movies, the Discovery, Science and Learning Channels, quilting, the Wii and of course, Harry Potter (what will we all do now that the series is done?)