February 2, 2009Her job: Head, Department of Fire Protection Engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I head a graduate program in a specialty area of fire and explosions. We offer masters and doctoral degrees to students who enter our program with a B.S. in mechanical, electrical, chemical, structural, or environmental engineering. I set curriculum, mentor and advise students, conduct research and teach. I work with a wide range of practitioners including architects, public building officials, codes and standards making bodies, and the fire service to provide a safe environment for people to live and work in.
Why did you choose engineering?
In high school I enjoyed chemistry and math, so I earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. A better way to select a major is to find out what the job is like by talking to practicing engineers. Studying a subject in school is not the same as working in that field. Find out what motivates and satisfies you! For instance, although I enjoyed my chemistry classes, many chemical engineers are employed in the petrochemical, paper, or food industries. None of these appealed to me. I wanted a job with a more people-oriented focus.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
B.S. in Chemical Engineering. M.S. in Fire Protection Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. , M.S. and Ph.D. in Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
Most of the challenges are conquering "expectations" other people have for you. When I decided to pursue my advanced degrees, some people close to me commented that it seemed pointless since I would be "quitting to have children soon." Now, I have three lovely children and am going as strong as ever! Everyone has an expectation about you and for you. You have to figure out what you want which is not always clear or easy.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
I love to cook (which many people find surprising)! They believe that since I'm dedicated to my profession, I must not be "domestic." I also love to garden, and to sing. I am told that I do not sing well, so I sing loud. My other loves are biking, hiking, the beach, the theater, and reading.