Pascha McAlister

""The first challenge I faced was math; I failed my first test EVER during my junior year in high school. Before that, I may have felt like a failure at times or may not have accomplished something the way I wanted to, but I had never failed. Failing that test made me start to approach learning a new way, namely for me. It made me appreciate ..."

INTERVIEW DATE October 6, 2015
HER JOB
Engineering Careers
Earth Resources |
"The first challenge I faced was math; I failed my first test EVER during my junior year in high school. Before that, I may have felt like a failure at times or may not have accomplished something the way I wanted to, but I had never failed. Failing that test made me start to approach learning a new way, namely for me. It made me appreciate whatever level of knowledge was available to me."
Pascha McAlister, Chevron

ADDEDTuesday, October 6, 2015

  • Q
    Describe what you do in your current work situation?
    A
    I’m currently a Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) Facilitator at Chevron. In this role, I use different tools and processes to evaluate risks in different types of operations, projects and procedures. These tools are created to align with federal, state, regional and local policies as it relates to personnel safety.  I also assist with water, species and unique permitting needed at my facility. There is no “typical” day at my job and I often wear numerous hats: functioning as an engineer, a subject consultant, facilitator, a new set of eyes on a proposed design, or inheriting a pre-existing project from another engineer or specialist.

    What is consistent is my approach to each new task. It’s important that I gather all of the information I need to make an informed decision. I start every project by identifying the problem, and asking questions to figure out how this issue relates to the bigger picture. I collaborate with various groups and colleagues inside and outside of Chevron in order to design and find a solution to the problem at hand. 
  • Q
    Why did you choose engineering?
    A
    I wasn’t always interested in engineering. Early in school, I steered away from math because I thought it didn’t allow for flexibility and creativity. But, as I took more advanced math courses, I began to realize that math had real-life applications and was not as rigid as I originally thought. I consider myself a pragmatic person and originally pursued my degree because I believed engineers had high job security – which they tend to. However, as I grew to experience and see the real-world application of my courses, I realized that aside from financial security, I could also make a real difference through engineering. 
  • Q
    Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
    A
    I attended the California State University Maritime Academy and earned a bachelor’s of science degree in mechanical engineering. While there, I worked on vessels as an operator, a maintenance worker, and an engineer. It provided a technical education and a practical one. It was at Cal State that I learned just because it should work, doesn’t mean it will!
  • Q
    What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
    A
    While at Chevron I have worked as a fixed equipment engineer, a project engineer, a small projects manager, shutdown engineer, shutdown engineering lead, an environmental specialist and currently a PHA facilitator. These positions have included work activities like scheduling meetings, planning scope, budget estimations and management, taking specialized education classes, managing conflicting work priorities, advocacy planning, technical study review, authoring and public presentation of technical data, regulatory strategy, development, and implementation and even releasing rehabilitated wildlife. 
  • Q
    What do you like best about being an engineer?
    A
    What I like most about being an engineer is the unpredictability of my daily job. I usually start the day with a list of items to work on, but most days, that list grows with unexpected projects and assignments.

    I also love the tangible results that come out of my efforts. Working through the engineering design process is like creating a piece of art—some brush strokes are already on the canvas, such as regulations or policies to comply with, but I’m able to add new strokes and shape the overall direction of the piece. 
  • Q
    Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
    A
    My proudest and most gratifying moment thus far has been delivering a keynote address at a regional STEM conference. When I discussed my journey with the middle school girls in attendance, I could see on their faces ideas flashing of ways they could shape their future. It validates my career, knowing that I can help shape these girls’ futures, by showing there are things out there they didn’t know they could do. It is wonderful to think that sharing my experiences could ignite a passion in these young girls to pursue their dreams. It re-emphasized my passion for engineering and desire to pave the way for new generations of female engineers.  
  • Q
    What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
    A
    The first challenge I faced was math; I failed my first test EVER during my junior year in high school. Before that, I may have felt like a failure at times or may not have accomplished something the way I wanted to, but I had never failed. Failing that test made me start to approach learning a new way, namely for me. It made me appreciate whatever level of knowledge was available to me. My parents couldn’t help me the way I wanted them to, but they could ask me questions to get me to use my brain differently and get to the answer.

    The largest challenge I have faced since then is accepting that I am an engineer. My thought pattern is different, my approach is different, and my focus is on content instead of tone. For example, you may not sound very nice, but if you make sense I can appreciate the information. Those differences aren’t a big deal to me, but they can matter to others. Being comfortable with having to explain it the right way, not the efficient way is a unique skill I work on every day. Every person is different and they process information differently, as an engineer it’s my job to get them what they need to know – it’s a big responsibility.

    Thankfully, I work for a company that values diversity. It is with varying perspectives that change and successful innovation can happen. 
  • Q
    Please tell us a little about your family.
    A
    When my father passed away, family took on a different meaning for me. Of course my family includes my mom, her family, my father’s side of the family, and my brother. But it also includes those friends from high school who have seen me panic at not understanding calculus, my college friends who I travelled the world with, my work friends, my mentors and my (future) dog.
  • Q
    What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
    A
    I want to increase my proficiency in chemical engineering and hazard facilitation because the skills can be used in so many fields and have such huge impact to so many. I am also interested in going to graduate school and pursuing an advanced education. Personally, I want to value every moment—large and small, good and bad—of my professional and engineering journey. I think a lot of engineers can be split into two groups: the “what’s the answer” type or the “how do we get there” type. Both types use the engineering method, but as a “what’s the answer” type, I often overlook the excitement of solving the puzzle or problem at hand.

    My long-term goals are to be in a position where I can effectively and efficiently manage and lead a team using the skills and education I have attained over the past 10 years. I want to be a face within my organization that a young female engineer wants to hear from, learn with and ask, “How did she get into her position?” Creating, bringing and fostering innovation is a skill I want to have better developed; to motivate myself, empower my work team, and those they interact with. I also hope to be in a position to better explain and mentor possibilities and obstacles for young engineers. I have been privileged to work with a variety of mentors who have encouraged and inspired me.

    My evergreen goal is to always be found nurturing diverse people and diverse ideas. 
  • Q
    What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
    A
    My network of mentors and role models has made the greatest impact on my life choices. When I started my career, I used to think that you should only ask for help if there was a problem at hand. Now, I realize that it is always valuable to get a different perspective—even when things are going well. I’ve sought counsel and guidance from a variety of mentors, ranging from different groups giving advice on specific issues to one-on-one conversations about behavioral adjustments and career growth. This diverse network has helped shape me into the professional I am today.

    Mentors can help young women realize the value they bring to their career. In a field that is underrepresented by women, a woman’s diverse perspective is critical to innovating and finding solutions. Female role models and mentors play a pivotal role in providing the tools and confidence necessary to succeed in STEM.  
  • Q
    What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
    A
    I always tell young women considering a career in engineering to think about how to translate passions and hobbies into a fulfilling career. I discovered my love of engineering outside of school, I loved Legos, asking how things worked, and taking things apart to put them back together. I think these attributes over time evolved into my career as an engineer.

    In addition to pursuing your passions, often, it takes the influence of role models and mentors to encourage young women to have the confidence to pursue STEM careers. I urge girls to get involved in their local communities and seek out women in the fields they are interested in. Having someone to provide guidance and to open doors is tremendously valuable as you pursue interests and a career in engineering.  
  • Q
    Any other stories or comments you would like to share with EngineerGirl visitors?
    A
    "The first challenge I faced was math; I failed my first test EVER during my junior year in high school. Before that, I may have felt like a failure at times or may not have accomplished something the way I wanted to, but I had never failed. Failing that test made me start to approach learning a new way, namely for me. It made me appreciate whatever level of knowledge was available to me."
  • Q
    Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
    A
    Outside of work, I work with my alma mater and the Cal State Foundation to generate support and energy towards ensuring the campus remains top-class. I love sports, theater and painting, so I try to do those as much as I can as well. As I’ve grown in my career, work-life balance has become increasingly important to me. It is important to dedicate time to yourself outside the office, so you can come back to work fresh-faced and with new ideas.