January 20, 2012Her job: Safety Engineer, Architect of the Capitol
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I work for the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) and principally review drawings and specifications for the extensive construction, renovation, and facility maintenance projects on which I work. I review these items for safety concerns and compliance with safety regulations. This is challenging work as most of our buildings are historic in nature and are up to 200 years old. You have to be very creative in your work on these projects.
Why did you choose engineering?
I didn’t really choose engineering. I thought as a child that I wasn’t smart enough in math and science to be able to earn an engineering degree. However, I did wish I could follow in my father’s footsteps (he is a Nuclear Engineer) for most of my childhood. Engineering kind of chose me when I began to work for AOC and was exposed to all of the project reviews. So I guess, in a backdoor sort of way, I was able to follow my dad.
Depending upon where you work, Engineering can be a very rewarding career, and sometimes a lot of fun. You can go places and see things that other people will never know. This is particularly enjoyable working for an Historic site because you get to see the past, the present, and the future as they all mix together in whatever project you’re working on.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
I have earned 2 degrees from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Management and a Master of Science degree in Safety Sciences.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
My first job in safety was at a Steel Mill. I served as an intern while going to graduate school and was able to use that internship to put into practice what I was learning in the classroom. Once I graduated I found took a job in a metals fabrication company. The company made electrical contacts and assemblies for a lot of manufacturers in the USA and around the world. I learned about and worked with a variety of machines and processes from 60 ton punch presses to chemical processes to recover metals. The job I have now really exposed me to engineering work. I act as the Safety Task Leader for all projects. My job focus now is to review the drawings, reports, studies, specifications, and other documents for a large variety of construction projects.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
I love to create so engineering has given me a wonderful way to be creative and earn a good living. To see projects brought from ideas on paper to new buildings is exciting and gratifying as I am the one responsible for assuring the final product is safe for everyone who will work in and around it.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
My proudest moment was in 2011 when I was awarded the Engineering Practice Specialty Safety Professional of the Year award at the national conference of the American Society of Safety Engineers, and honored as one of 100 women making a difference in safety. In addition I am proud that I worked to get this award all by myself. I put myself through graduate school and took on just about any challenge, including passing the Certified Safety Professional (CSP) exam.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
When I started my job at AOC, I was nervous about the engineering work. This was my first exposure to such work and I had always believed I wasn’t smart enough to be an engineer due to my difficulty in math and science. However, I faced my fear, participated on every project team to which I was assigned, and eventually learned to read blueprints and plans allowing me to perform the work for which I was hired. Some people even said I couldn’t do it, that I would quit the job because I didn’t have an engineering background. I proved them all wrong.
Please tell us a little about your family.
I was raised in a big family. It was my mom and dad, me, and my three brothers. My dad is a Nuclear Engineer and 2 of my brothers are also Engineers. My third brother is a former Marine. Now that I’m out of the nest, it’s just me and my dog and my cat. They welcome me home every day and can always make me happy no matter how hard a day I’ve had.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
Short-term, I want to go back to IUP and earn my Doctorate in Safety. I am already trying to think of topics for my dissertation. Long-term, I want to move into academia and become a college professor so I can teach Safety and maybe inspire another girl to pursue engineering.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
Definitely my dad. I was his little girl and I always wanted to be like him. I wanted to go into Nuclear Engineering, but I think that Safety Engineering is a better fit for me and I have the added bonus of knowing I am the one protecting people from hazardous situations.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
Don’t ever quit, don’t ever give up or give in. Never let anyone, even yourself, tell you “you can’t”.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
In my spare time I enjoy art and genealogy. I’ve traced my family tree back to 1633 in this country and am an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAC) and Daughters of the American Colonists (DAC). I am even in the process of gathering proof that one of my ancestors was an accused and convicted witch in Salem. Learning about my ancestors and putting together my family story is so much fun and sometimes very exciting. Also, I spend quiet time drawing or making things like Christmas ornaments. I just love to create!