International Women in Engineering Day is Saturday, June 23. The day was created “to support, inspire, celebrate and raise the profile of women in engineering. It is an opportunity to draw attention to the careers in engineering for girls and young people and to celebrate the achievements of women engineers.”
So today we are featuring a few of the inspiring women in engineering at Parametrix. They’re sharing their challenges, triumphs, and career advice. Read their stories below.
Puyallup, WA | Water Resources Engineer | 2 Years of Experience
“Ask questions. Stay curious. If this work excites you, then don’t give up and show the world what you’ve got!”
– Clara Olson
Clara began at Parametrix two years ago after graduating from Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. She is a part of our Water Solutions group and works on a variety of water and wastewater projects for local agencies and tribal clients.
What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering? In school, I was always drawn to math, and often to science as well. I completed an after-school program in high school (ACE) where I worked with a group of students and professionals to create a very preliminary design for a boathouse. This sparked my interest in what it could mean to be an engineer, but in the end, what drew me to engineering was simply that my parents thought it would be a good fit and persuaded me to study engineering in school. And they were right, so thank you, Mom and Dad!
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman in engineering? I’ve been pretty lucky in this regard, but the one thing I’ve noticed is that young female engineers can sometimes be overlooked and underestimated, especially in the field. As a relatively new engineer in the work force, I believe I’ve used this to my advantage. I ask questions when I am unsure or don’t know something. This also works in the opposite way, by pleasantly surprising someone when I’m fully aware and understand what’s going on.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering? Go for it! There are more and more women entering the industry all the time. Seek out women role models. Ask questions. Stay curious. If this work excites you, then don’t give up and show the world what you’ve got!
Jen Hillyard, EIT
Bremerton, WA | Transportation Engineer | 3 Years of Experience
“I love being able to design the world we live in, making it a beautiful and functional place for everyone to enjoy.”
– Jen Hillyard, EIT
Jen may only be a couple of years into her career, but she has already experienced so much. In college she studied to become a water resource engineer but soon found herself at an engineering firm doing structural bridge work. While it was a bit intimidating, she dug her heels in and went to work, learning as much as she could. Just a couple years later she and her husband, who is in the military, had to move to the opposite end of the country where she found Parametrix and became a part of the Transportation group. She has now been at Parametrix for a full year and says she is loving it!
What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering? As a kid I was always in LOVE with building things. Whenever I went to my grandma’s house, I would head straight to the toy closet and pull out the Lincoln Logs. For Christmas one year, I stayed up all night building my new K’nex roller coaster. I just always gravitated towards design and critical thinking, so when a school counselor in junior high suggested I consider engineering, I decided to go for it. It took me a little while to figure out exactly what kind of engineer I wanted to be, but I eventually settled into civil because I love being able to design the world we live in, making it a beautiful and functional place for everyone to enjoy.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman in engineering? There are two challenges I have experienced as a woman in engineering, mainly during college. Sometimes it was assumed that I was being given special treatment and was only successful because I was a woman, other times I was ignored or turned away for being a woman. At first, I let these experiences diminish my confidence and I constantly felt the need to prove I was capable.
During my junior year, I started mentoring other engineering students and realized that there was no way I could inspire and help other students build confidence if I didn’t even believe in myself. And if I didn’t believe in myself, how could I expect anyone else to find confidence in my abilities? I decided that as long as I was happy and loved what I was doing, it didn’t matter whether other people assumed about me or the path I took to get where I am now.
Thankfully my experiences in the work force have been much more positive and full of support. At Parametrix I have so many people I turn to for help and support, both men and women, and I hope I can be exactly that for other young engineers in the future.
What advice do you have for young women considering a career in engineering? If you want the rewarding experience of doing something that really has an impact on society by becoming an engineer, I say go for it! Everyone should have the opportunity to pursue what they love and enjoy doing. Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t capable just because you are different. Find your passion and do everything you can to learn, learn, learn. As long as you have a positive attitude and are willing work your hardest, you can do it!
I think the two most important things that have helped me get where I am today was always having a positive attitude toward trying new things even if they seem difficult and reaching out to those who are ahead of me on their career path for guidance and mentorship.
Emily Welter, EIT
Seattle, WA | Transportation Engineer | 5 Years of Experience
“I’ve always been a problem solver and a creative, and engineering seemed like a good (if unlikely) way to use both sets of skills.”
– Emily Welter, EIT
Emily began at Parametrix just over a year ago. She holds a BS in Civil Engineering from Vanderbilt University. She is a part of the Transportation design group in our Seattle office.
What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering? I’ve always been a problem solver and a creative, and engineering seemed like a good (if unlikely) way to use both sets of skills. Working in transportation specifically is also such a great way to contribute to your community and work on projects that impact people’s lives on a daily basis.
What are some of the challenges of being a woman in engineering? It’s not uncommon for others to doubt what you say as a female engineer (or assume you’re not an engineer in the first place) and it’s easy to fall victim to “imposter syndrome.” I’m still working to overcome this mindset and to push past this challenge on my own, but it also doesn’t hurt to seek out a cheerleader in your network who believes in you and can help you build confidence in the work you do. Double points if this person is also a woman in engineering :)
Anything else you would like to add? I would like to give a shout-out to Women in Transportation Seminar (WTS) for supporting not only female engineers but women in all corners of the transportation industry. Check out your local chapter and go meet some inspiring women!
Grace Amundsen, PE
Puyallup, WA | Transportation Engineer | 7 Years of Experience
“I grew up seeing engineering as a challenging, dynamic, and rewarding career, which it has proven to be.”
– Grace Amundsen, PE
Grace studied at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Kingston University London, with summer internships taking her to the Aleutian Islands, Anchorage, and above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. After graduation, she worked for the Alaska Department of Transportation in a rotation program that had her doing everything from bridge inspection on Prince of Wales Island to counting eagles in Haines to peat probing in Nikiski. After traveling all over Alaska, she had the opportunity join the Transportation design team at Parametrix in Puyallup, WA. She recently passed her professional engineering exam to earn her PE license.
What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering? My dad inspired my career in engineering. He’s also an engineer, and one of my earliest memories is scribbling all over old plan sheets in crayon, pretending to “correct” them like Dad. I grew up seeing engineering as a challenging, dynamic, and rewarding career, which it has proven to be.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman in engineering? There have been some challenges, and not always the ones you’d think of – things like being required to wear ill-fitting work jackets because someone assumed only men’s sizes were needed, arriving out to a remote construction site with no housing available for a woman because the new arrival bunk was planned to stay in a men’s camp, and other examples of benign neglect. The only real response to that kind of thing is to bring attention to the error and move on, staying flexible.
What are you most proud of so far in your career? I’m most proud of my contributions to the King Cove Access Road Completion Project, though it currently ends in a ramp into the ocean due to permitting issues with the last few miles. A deal was reached in January allowing for its completion, and I hope to someday see the finished project. It was probably one of the most technically challenging roads I’ve worked on, with remote logistics (people and construction materials came in by barge or ferry), work below the tide line, work on muskeg (a kind of peat bog), an actively erupting volcano approximately 20 miles away, and even a brown bear attack. It was also personally satisfying, because the road, when completed, will save lives, providing access to an all-weather airport for medical evacuations and opening that community to the world.
What advice do you have for young women pursuing a career in engineering? I’d suggest you practice problem solving. Learning doesn’t end in school – go out there and try making something that pushes your limits, whether that’s a hovercraft, a laser cutter, a sewing machine, a design for a competition, a science fair project or something unique to your interests. The only thing that makes you better at solving problems and project management is practice, and it’s not a skill set often emphasized in school.
Brandy Rogers, PE
Puyallup, WA | Transportation Engineer | 13 Years of Experience
“Engineering isn’t about being male or female. It’s about great minds finding solutions together and helping society.”
– Brandy Rogers, PE
The photo above was taken on the SR 520 West Approach Bridge near Seattle, WA during construction. Brandy designed and detailed all of that rebar, the portion she is holding is wider in diameter than her wrist! Brandy began at Parametrix in Portland 13 years ago after earning her master’s degree in civil engineering. She is now part of the Bridges and Structures group in the Puyallup, WA office.
What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering? My dad inspired me to become an engineer. He has worked construction all his life (commercial buildings typically but is capable of designing anything in his head and can materialize it with limited math skills and no college education). My sister and I were raised by our dad and grandpa and were taught to be self-sufficient from an early age, giving us some mad MacGyver skills. I have been fascinated by buildings and structures from an early age, as demonstrated with Legos and wood from our wood pile. There was no question what I was going to be when I grew up.
Unfortunately, engineering was not something that was showcased at career day in school. I didn’t know what a civil engineer was until later in high school, courtesy of a friend whose father was an electrical engineer. But my direction was pretty clear, so I earned my bachelor’s and master’s in civil engineering after 6 years of college and then worked briefly with the university to publish and present my research at a national seminar. My sister was the first college grad in my family with a music degree and I am the first and only in my family with a master’s degree.
Have you faced any challenges in your career as a female engineer? Personally, I do not feel limited in my career by being a woman. I have always been treated with respect by my colleagues, managers, and peers. I was given independence from the start at Parametrix to think for myself (thanks Mr. Bob Murray!) and my ideas were valued. With that said, I have a strong and direct personality. I advocate for myself and believe that has earned me respect in many ways. I am also very smart and diligent about producing the best product possible, thus earning the trust of others.
Something I have noticed is that up until recently, there would be approximately 10 women out of 500 men attending the Western Bridge Engineers Seminar. That’s a little intimidating; however, it’s good to stand out because you are remembered. This last year, there was probably 20 - 30% women in attendance, with a much larger percent of young engineers. Engineering is changing.
What are you most proud of in your career? I am most proud of my work on the SR 520 floating bridge mega-project. The complexity and magnitude of the work has been challenging and has attracted some of the most talented engineers I have ever met. It’s also encouraged a team effort and above all set the expectation of excellence in what we do. I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do a time history seismic analysis, produced final design plans that really are a work of art, and have mentored many along the way. Teaching others and helping them to grow comes with great satisfaction.
What advice do you have for young women considering a career in engineering? Work hard. Be direct. Have a voice. Earn your achievements. Engineering isn’t about being male or female. It’s about great minds finding solutions together and helping society. Leave the competitive nature behind and always look out for your peers as well. As you mature in the field, your peers may be your managers or even your clients. You are always marketing, even from a young age.
Julie Brandt, PE
Seattle, WA | Stormwater Engineer | 21 Years of Experience
“Ask questions and learn to listen – but don’t doubt yourself. You belong here, Smart Lady, and the world needs you.”
– Julie Brandt, PE
Julie has been with Parametrix for nearly 18 years and is a part of the Surface Water group in Seattle. The photo above is at the Point Defiance Stormwater Treatment Facility, which won an ACEC Engineering Excellence Award. She received a degree in civil engineering from the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign and was a federal enforcement agent for the EPA before joining Parametrix.
What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering? I knew I wanted a career where I could put my love of math and science to use, but I didn’t want to be in a lab. I wanted to be a math girl out in the world, preferably protecting the environment. I chose to focus on surface water going into college because I love open-water swimming.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman in engineering? When I first started in this industry, I used to believe that I had to think, act, and speak like the male engineers of the generations before me. Now I realize that my thought process and communication style – which is more gentle, inclusive, and exploratory than what I had seen from some of my first “role models” – brings important elements that strengthen our industry and our final designs.
What advice do you have for young women considering a career in engineering? If you really love math and science, and you’re also pretty good at art and writing, then engineering might be super fun for you. And to young female engineers just starting out: If you’ve made it through an engineering degree, then you are here for a reason. Ask questions and learn to listen – but don’t doubt yourself. You belong here, Smart Lady, and the world needs you.
Jennifer Dvorak, PE
Puyallup, WA | Transportation Engineer | 23 Years of Experience
“In fact, your authentic and fresh viewpoint can turn old assumptions on their head. Be bold.”
– Jennifer Dvorak, PE
Jennifer began as a civil engineer in the Air Force. She didn’t think she would actually use civil engineering after she left. As she expanded her experience and worked on meaningful projects she began to think of herself as an engineer. Now she can’t imagine being anything else!
What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering? I was good in math at school, and I had the example of my dad who designed medical equipment. He was (and still is!) an adventurous, creative and quirky engineer that invited anyone who would listen to stories about how things came to be. I simply viewed engineering as a fun way to understand things.
What are some of the challenges you've faced as a woman in engineering?Honestly, I can’t think of a better career field for women, and I’ve never experienced any systematic challenges that slowed my career (that I know of, specifically!). I remember early in my career I was always the only woman in the room, and there were a few instances where leadership individuals looked right past me to the man standing next to me. I just ignored it and did my job, and did it well. Now there are tons of women around the table, to the benefit of everyone.
What are you most proud of in your career? I’m really proud of the fact that I have mentored lots of young women along the way, and that my two young children (both boys) think that there is nothing remarkable about a mother who is a veteran, engineer, or part-time working mom. Their generation will have their own world challenges to solve, and their wives and daughters will enjoy their support when the time has come to address those challenges.
What advice do you have for young women pursuing a career in engineering? Don’t be discouraged or feel shy about asking questions, or feeling like you’re not up to the job. You are absolutely capable of doing this. In fact, your authentic and fresh viewpoint can turn old assumptions on their head. Be bold.
Cindy Clark, PE
Puyallup, WA | Transportation Engineer | 24 Years of Experience
“I am most proud of being able to manage a healthy work-life balance.”
– Cindy Clark, PE
The photo above is of Cindy with her favorite pastimes… astronomy, camping, strawberry pie, and wine! Cindy has been an employee-owner at Parametrix for nearly 21 years and also currently serves as an Employee Stock Ownership Plan Trustee for the company. During her career she has advanced from a junior EIT, to lead design engineer, to project manager, and now to senior consultant, all while raising three kids. She says when she began her career she thought engineering was something that she would only do until she had kids. However, she simply enjoyed it too much to stay away!
What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering? My dad was a civil engineer for the FAA for nearly 40 years. I’ve always been drawn to math and science in school, and so becoming an engineer came naturally.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman in engineering? How have you overcome them? To be completely blunt, I’ve experienced harassment. The first time was as a summer intern during college. Being new, I was too scared to say anything so I just completely avoided the situation.
Later in my career there was another incident. This time I had enough confidence to do something about it. I reported the incident to Human Resources and with their help I chose to confront this person in a professional manner and it never happened again. (Disclaimer: This person no longer works for Parametrix and has not for a very long time.)
I don’t share this to gain sympathy or create controversy; I only share this because I hope that if anyone (male or female) finds themselves in a similar situation, from my experiences I’ve learned that it’s always best to say something.
Honestly though, other than instances like those above (which could happen in just about any career), I’ve never felt like being a women in engineering has been particularly more challenging beyond the normal challenges we all face as consultants (design challenges, deadlines, budgets, etc.). Early in my career it would feel a bit odd to walk into a room full of men and be “different” from everyone, but now I’m so used to it that I don’t even notice anymore.
What has been your greatest achievement in your career? That’s a tough one to pick! I suppose that I am most proud of being able to manage a healthy work-life balance. During my time at Parametrix, I’ve raised my three children from infancy to near adulthood, and advanced my career to the point where I’m a senior consultant and a Trustee. So for me, my greatest achievement isn’t any one particular instance, instead it’s been more about successfully managing the journey that’s brought me to where my family and I are today.
What advice do you have for young women considering a career in engineering? Go for it! It’s been a great career and I have zero regrets choosing it. My advice – gain field experience and take a speech class. It’s amazing how much public speaking I’ve done in my career. One more thing: have a bit of a thick skin and a healthy sense of humor, because it can be quite a ride!