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International Women in Engineering Day

From overcoming stereotypes to pushing boundaries, female engineers have faced unique challenges in the field, shattering glass ceilings and emerging as catalysts for change in a male-dominated industry. While the number of women entering STEM occupations has increased over the years, female civil engineers still only make up about 17% of the occupation.

In honor of International Women in Engineering Day, we are diving into the experiences of female engineers at Modjeski and Masters for this blog post. Read on as they candidly share their valuable advice to other aspiring female engineers, unveil their triumphs, and discuss the unique journey of being a woman in the transportation engineering industry. 

What was the moment you knew you wanted to go into engineering?

  • “A group of engineers came to visit our high school physics class during Engineer’s Week. They discussed how engineering tied to math and science and what projects they were working on. The project they shared was the development of the MetroLink light rail system in St. Louis. I loved math, science, and the potential to design the infrastructure that we use daily, so I decided this was something I would really like to do. Today M&M works for MetroLink on multiple projects in the St. Louis area, including the original alignment that was discussed that day. I am extremely grateful for the engineers that took time to discuss their STEM career choice with our class and the opportunities working for M&M has given me.” — Jerilyn Hassard, PM, MidAmerica Structures 

  • “When I was in high school, there was a college recruiter that came to speak to our class. He told the girls we could sit over to the side and talk amongst ourselves while he talked to the boys about engineering. I really enjoyed my math and science classes and was already thinking about engineering as a possible career path, but this moment sealed the deal for me.” — Rachel Mertz, PM, MidAmerica Structures

  • “Coloring on my Dad’s blueprints.” — Michelle Price, Senior Engineer, PA Structures

What's one hurdle you've had to face as a woman in STEM?

  • “One hurdle I’ve faced as a woman in STEM is tackling the nervousness that comes with speaking up when you come across what you believe is an error in design. I’ve learned to trust my judgment and walk my peers through my process.” — Olivia Clesceri, Technician, NY Structures

  • “As the only woman in field services, I knew I’m not physically as strong as the guys to do certain tasks (e.g., carrying heavy ladders). I often remind myself that our main job is to ensure the well-being of the bridges we inspect using our knowledge. This is not a physical contest.” — Elizabeth Shen, Engineer-in-Training, Field Services

  • “Sometimes being the only woman in the office or at the construction site can make you feel like you don’t belong. It is good to remind ourselves that we do belong and bring great assets to the table.” — Paula Heredia Guerrero, Engineer-in-training, New York Structures

What advice do you have to other women starting their careers in engineering?

  • “Whether you are still in college pursuing your degree or starting your first job, you will be challenged daily. Stay focused on growing and absorbing everything you can. Don't be discouraged. With the right people, you will be able to grow and advance in your career.” — Yelena Rivera, Engineer, New Orleans Structures

  • “Do not be afraid to ask lots of questions. The more you ask and learn the earlier in your career, the better.” — Erin Levitt, Engineer, PA Structures

  • “There is no doubt that engineering is hard, but it is doable. Have the confidence in yourself to keep working towards your goals and if you are lucky to find other women in your field, working together makes it a lot easier… With patience and perseverance, you will make it through!” — Paula Heredia Guerrero, Engineer-in-training, New York Structures

What are you most excited for the coming year?

  • “Continuing to mentor our young engineers, and always working on myself to be that example for others.” — Stacey Carr, PM, New Orleans Structures

  • “Learning! As an engineer, we are constantly learning new things, and as long as we stay open to it, learning never ends. Here at M&M, I am fortunate to be surrounded by many experienced engineers who are gracious enough to share their expertise on a daily basis.” — Yelena Rivera, Engineer, New Orleans Structures

  • “I am excited to reach my 5-year anniversary with Modjeski and Masters!” — Olivia Clesceri , Technician, NY Structures

A final story to share…

I attended a smaller university and was the only female in my civil engineering class.  On my first day of class Freshman year, I walked into the classroom and sat down and the male student next to me leaned over and whispered “Hey, this is engineering”.  I whispered back, “Thanks for letting me know I’m in the right spot”. — Rachel Mertz, PM, MidAmerica Structures

Sometimes being the only woman in the office or at the construction site can make you feel like you don’t belong. It is good to remind ourselves that we do belong and bring great assets to the table.

-Paula Heredia Guerrero, Engineer-in-training, New York Structures