Hi nerd friends! I’m a water resources engineer and a crazy cat lady! I work on some pretty cool projects that I’d like to….gush about. 😆 Sorry, not sorry for the puns!
The goal of this project is to support my mission by showcasing the workstyle and lifestyle of a professional engineer. I’m involved in some pretty unique and challenging projects! But I mean….sometimes…there’s just the paperwork and networking and…okay, I enjoy that too! But I want to share all of it with y’all–the sexy, the difficult, the boring. This is what it means to be a female engineer.
I think the world of lady power. Looking back on my progression to this field, I would never have known it existed had I not stumbled upon it with some fantastic mentors along the way!
Growing up, my siblings and I always had access to a workshop full of machinery and an eager dad showing us how to use pH strips on anything lying around. It’s no surprise that I fell in love with F.I.R.S.T. robotics club in high school and went on to pursue the design side of STEM. It’s only just occurring to me how great I thought it was to try to mentor the younger students in middle school or the freshman coming into robotics club!
After inspiration from the F.I.R.S.T. robotics team and P.L.T.W. classes at my high school, I started the undergraduate program in mechanical engineering at Missouri University of Science & Technology. It didn’t take long for me to realize that in a school of 23% women, the ME classes were going to be all guys. That was really my first experience with feeling, not just knowing, that STEM is stacked with dudes! So I shortly switched into the geological engineering program. Ask my mom and she will tell you that I’ve always collected rocks, ripping out the seams of my pockets, and insisting on the biggest and heaviest for her to tug out of the ground and lug home.
I first wet my whiskers working on water projects with my undergrad advisor who also happened to be a female-in-engineer advocate. Then during my junior year of undergrad, I received an internship/co-op in environmental engineering with Golder Associates doing groundwater remediation and an assortment of field investigations (Phase I activities). The field work was exciting and it made sense that I loved it in small bursts: I love limited amounts of outdoors and also crave the feeling of having a set objective and being able to exceed expectations on those tasks. However there were weeks where I fixed borders on spreadsheets and begged engineers for more workload (that’s the least fun part about being an introvert and starting a consulting job). Apart from the challenges of navigating an office scene for the first time, I could see myself becoming bored eventually. I knew I wanted to go back to grad school to work in a more technical, groundwater niche. I even flirted with the idea of a PhD for a long time.
I applied to three schools thinking, “there’s no way I will ever move to Texas!”. So when a female professor I admired gave me an offer to research in Costa Rica through Texas A&M, I packed my stuff and moved to rural Texas. 2 years and a lot of new friends later, I was back in St. Louis living with my parents frantically filling out job applications.
professional donutier (I mean engineer)
Right meow, I live in Austin, TX (heh about never moving to Texas) and work at CH2M, a large civil engineering firm where I get to find sustainable, unique solutions to how and where we get our water supply. I do think by supporting projects where we design hydraulic systems for wastewater including treatment design and conveyance (pipelines). Because I’m the youngest (and therefore the cheapest) engineer in the office, I find myself helping on the most unique projects: constructing a water management plan for a city (figuring out future demands and how to conservative/find supply to meet those demands), organizing the senior engineers when they design dam rehabilitation measures for a 60 year old dam (and all the fun site visits and model interpretations that go with this!), construction management of a 5 ft diameter waterline (including creating the O&M manuals, overseeing construction out in the field, and reviewing LOTS of paperwork), and designing a filtration system and sizing pumps for wells which are considered groundwater-under-the-influence [of surface water hazards].
My career trajectory is groundwater based (though I’m looking forward to see where each decade will take me!). For the time being (like any millennial, I change my mind quuuuuite a bit), these hydrogeology projects excite me knowing there are so many unknowns! At any given time I could be conducting a feasibility assessment for aquifer storage and recovery (storing drinking water underground) or sitting out on a drill rig to take measurements during a well pumping test. The heartbeat of the projects are construction-based, community-supported, future-thinking, efficient engineering design held up with desktop investigations, political assistance for groundwater law, and interdisciplinary teamwork. The coolest part is how satisfying it feels to create something that impacts an entire city! Plus, there are many perks: business travel to beautiful field sites, working from home with my cat, and challenging myself every. single. day. Or you know, every few days.
Life is convoluted. It’s twisting and meandering and sometimes magical…just like those collodial silver-coated ceramic pot filters I researched in Guatemala during undergrad. My plan looks like more of a river delta. Some of the pathways, I haven’t quite developed. What I do know is that I want to become a technological expert and informing decision making, in both the political and social sphere. I love to be a knowledge base of information to share. I like to have my hands in all the water buckets. I’d like to critically address misinformation (such as recycling wastewater for drinking water) in the media, and to inspire women just as they’ve inspired me. I want to have fun, whatever metamorphosis this takes on!
close of business
In between checking email, flying out to meet clients, and trying to keep my paws on even ground, I sometimes have time to do my hobbies. I am trying to learn Spanish. I meet with my friends over coffee in Austin, TX. I travel as often as possible. And buy lots of plants…some of them, the cat doesn’t eat or use as a litter box. I consume podcasts & books of all kinds & attempt all sorts of vegan recipes. I like to be involved in the political landscape. I am a #steminist. This is what a female engineer looks like.
Don’t let the engineering mantra of “good at math and science” fool you into thinking the whole career is doing math problems in a cubicle. In fact, I think the last time I used my TI-89 calculator was in school! Though the education is important to the field (and tough at times), there’s way more to the industry than that! Engineering is for anyone with a bit of grit and a love of how the world works.
Don’t be shy to ask questions. I know just enough to know…there’s so much to learn in our built universe!! Water we doing if not always learning? Call me out if I’ve gotten anything wrong and as always, thanks for joining me!