October 10, 2007Her job: President, E.D.W. Associates,Inc.
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I moved to the Washington D.C. area ten years ago to take advantage of the construction of the fascinating buildings that are always part of the U.S. Government scene. I brought the firm I established in Chicago, E.D.W Associates, Inc., Construction Services with me. My husband and I are working through E.D.W. Associates, as well as full time assignments from contractors to the government. My last assignment was as a Deputy Project Manager assigned to the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. As such, I oversaw the facilities management and construction management in a highly secure area of twelve buildings and 57 acres. E.D.W Associates,Inc. also takes on forensic engineering whenever the case is interesting. I can safely say that we're experts in our field of heating,ventilating, air conditioning, refrigeration, humidification and dehumidification. Problems involving indoor air quality and energy conservation always involve HVAC, as it is called. Our clients are lawyers representing other clients with problems that are causing health concerns and financial hardships.
Why did you choose engineering?
I've always enjoyed solving problems and I love things that move. That's why I chose mechanical engineering. When I was little, I had a windup alarm clock that I was always taking apart and putting back together again. I was raised in Chicago where there used to be a lot of wonderful heavy industry. I really envisioned myself to be somehow involved in the design of railroads or steel mills. I come from a very "artistic family". My father was a civil engineer and convinced me that engineering was an artistic endeavor. By the time I was in high school in the 1950's, I was so influenced by World War II that I planned on becoming an aeronautical engineer. I eventually changed to straight mechanical engineering because it offered more opportunity in a town so dedicated to architecture as Chicago.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
I attended an all-girl's Catholic high school and it was a "culture shock" when I followed my father's footsteps to the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago. I chose mechanical and aerospace engineering. My father died when I was a sophomore in high school. Even with a small scholarship was too financially stained to obtain anything beyond a BS degree, and that was over a period of twelve years. I chose IIT because it is a splendid engineering school and is still tightly linked to the world of architecture.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
My work experience started while completing work on my undergraduate degree at IIT. Chicago is known for its fine architecture and it helped me to secure work as a drafter at various consulting engineering/architectural offices. It was at this time that I discovered the relatively new and exciting world of HVAC that would become my life's work. I moved from drafter to designer, and when I received my degree I went to work for the federal government at the US General Services Administration (GSA). I chose the federal government as an employer because it was clear that engineering, particularly the field I had chosen, was generally a poor environment for women, and to get anywhere in management, I needed to be in a place that was less hostile. GSA not only gave me an opportunity to move into management, but it offered me excellent continuing education in management and construction management. I found the field of construction management to be wildly exciting and once I reached the "glass ceiling" within the government, I left for private industry and became part of an exciting decade of building in Chicago. I was typically "the mechanical engineer" on any project and worked with some extremely talented people, both in my own firm and with clients and contractors alike. When recession called a halt to building, I got my Professional Engineer's license and started two companies; E.D.W.Associates, Inc. for Construction Services and Duignan-Woods, Chartered, specializing in the design of HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection. This allowed me to take advantage of whatever was currently active in the area. It was toward the end of a decade that I realized that some of the most interesting engineering (solving problems) was being done by manufacturers of cutting edge equipment. It was at this time that I allowed my design firm to close and my construction services firm to branch out and include representation of equipment. This also allowed me to move to a new location, North Carolina.
I enjoyed my four years in NC, but my husband, Lee and I both yearned for more exciting work and I took a job as a Chief Mechanical Engineer for a small consulting firm in the DC area. Looking at my career as a whole, it is clear that I made all the decisions on where to work, where to move and what work to do. No one really helped me along the way. Taking control of one's career is very important.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
I like solving problems. In choosing IIT, I chose a school that was dedicated to the scientific process, but had a substantial faculty in the arts that was schooled at the University of Chicago. One can learn scientific principles and engineering applications, but applying "critical thinking" to solving problems is the crux of engineering. To identify the problem, gather the data (or evidence) and watch the solution to the problem evolve is very exciting.
I very carefully planned out my career, and it became very clear that my credibility as an engineer would require that I get out in the construction field where "Real work" was being done. I did that periodically and certainly in the duties of my own firm. It's a fantastic learning experience to see how things should go together and it allows you to judge when things are NOT going together properly.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
I wish I could have gone on to advanced degrees or branch out into law, but I pursued my Professional Engineering licensure and hold them now in six states. I was twenty years into my career when my husband urged me to sit for that exam and I'm glad I did. It allowed me to go into private practice and establish a successful construction services business, which is the apex of any professional career. I'm pleased that I worked myself through the Illinois Institute of Technology. It's a truly excellent school and gave me a very good education.
Work in my professional societies and technical societies gave me opportunity to become an early female recipient of the ASHRAE (Amer. Society of Heating Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers) Distinguished Service Award and to become the first woman to head a standing committee and Chair the largest Chapter in the Society. Successes such as these led to the prestigious membership in the International Women's Forum.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
I never really took the resistance to women in engineering, seriously, until I was actually working in the profession. There was hostility, actually public humiliation, on campus when I was in school, both from students and from professors and teachers. Fortunately, I had a wonderful role model and mentor in one of the mechanical engineering professors, Dr. Lois Graham. She was the first women in the U.S. to receive a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. My choice of engineering so closely connected to construction was a challenge. Construction is still an unfriendly environment for women, but combining any hostile environment with excellent academic accomplishments makes a difference. The educational advantage allowed me to secure work which would normally have been denied me because of my sex. In my early days, women were routinely denied work in areas like engineering, no matter what your credentials were. Denial of work because of sex is extremely difficult to surmount. Fortunately, that's generally changed for the better. Right now, it appears to be relegated to the very highest echelons of business management. That too will change.
Please tell us a little about your family.
Right now, my family is limited to my husband and myself and nieces and nephews scattered around the country. When I chose a career in engineering, I chose to deny myself a full family life. Though it appears to be compatible today, it's extremely difficult to maintain yourself as an up-to-date engineer when you drop out of the workforce for several years. It's a choice, but it has consequences. I was fortunate to marry a wonderful man, Lee Woods, who understood this.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
While the work world around Washington, DC is still exciting, I will probably continue to work for someone else, short term. My longer term goal is to work for E.D.W. Associates, Inc., with my talented husband for as long a possible, as a consultant and forensic engineer. There are many problems out there that need to be solved.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
The earliest was that of my father, a civil engineer who loved his profession. My whole family was film buffs and the films of World War II were very influential to my values and work ethic. Women generally were the most influential in my professional life. First the Society of Women Engineers and later the National Organization for Women gave me the courage and confidence to pursue many things in my career and in my life. I was lucky to have known Dr. Lois Graham, Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (the mother of COBAL), and Dr. Lillian Gilbreth (of Cheaper by the Dozen fame) and many, many other exceptional women.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
Don't consider it just another "job option". Engineering is a profession and the dedication and ethics involved are very important. It's important to get the very best education possible and not be afraid to try new things and learn. Keep an open mind and understand history. It's the only way to get to the future, and that's what engineering is all about. Engineering IS an "Artistic Endeavor". It's not just crunching numbers, but requires a talent to think about the world as part of the universe. As an engineer, you need to understand "relationships", particularly energy systems, global and universal forces, light and gravity. Energy systems create new materials and literally make the world move. These global concepts are innate but honed with good education.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
Work is very important to me, by choice, but next would be music. I'm proud to say that I'm part of an eighth generation, in terms of music teachers, from Beethoven. My husband is also an extremely talented pianist. We have two pianos and usually play together. Both my husband, also a mechanical engineer for a government contractor, and I enjoy our careers and have a history of work in ASHRAE that we've combined with travel. We both like vintage movies, vintage cars, popular music of the 1920's and 30's, good theater (and there was much in Chicago) and concerts (The Chicago Symphony and the Baltimore Symphony). When I was in Chicago, I did a lot of volunteer work and sat on several NFP boards. When you are in business, it's important to give back to the community. You have a responsibility to do that as a professional.