P. Joseph Lehman, Inc., Consulting Engineers strongly believes in workplace diversity and creating opportunities for women and minorities. Elizabeth Heggi is a Professional Engineer employed by Lehman Engineers since 2010. In the following interview, Elizabeth sheds some light on overcoming challenges she faced as a woman in an industry often dominated by men.
QUESTION: “As a high-achieving student, you could have chosen any field of study in college. Why did you choose Civil Engineering versus other areas? And why not other fields of engineering?”
ELIZABETH: “Good question. You know, when I entered my senior year in high school, I had absolutely no idea what career path I wanted to pursue after graduation. This is what I knew: I loved math and physics and I wanted to go to college. In the college course selection handbook, I remember that the Civil Engineering program caught my attention because of all the math and physics requirements. I also saw that the Civil Engineering program had courses in concrete and steel design, which sounded very interesting to me. But I entered my freshman year of college still not knowing what a career in Civil Engineering entailed.”
QUESTION: “During your time studying Civil Engineering in college, what were some of the unique challenges you experience as a woman?”
ELIZABETH: “Well as you know, I am a little quiet and shy. And sitting in classrooms made up mainly of men, I was a little intimidated. However, there were a few other women in my class. That made me feel more comfortable. As time went by, I got to know my classmates and realized that I knew and understood the material as well as they did. That made me feel less intimidated.”
QUESTION: “Did you experience any unique challenges as a practicing female Processional Engineer?”
ELIZABETH: “After graduation, it was intimidating entering a male-dominated profession. In the beginning, I would occasionally hear some negative comments. However, as time went on, I was able to prove to my co-workers, and more importantly to myself, that I was very well-qualified to do my job. Sometimes men and women approach things differently with other perspectives. I don’t consider that a challenge though. I think that has made me a valuable member of the team I work with. And everybody I work with contributes greatly to the team.”
QUESTION: “In your opinion, why aren’t more women choosing the field of Civil Engineering as a profession?”
ELIZABETH: “I honestly don’t know why more women aren’t choosing Civil Engineering. It is possible that the old school of thought is still out there…math and science careers are for men and not women. But I see those stereotypes and barriers coming down. It is also possible that women are drawn to professions like teaching and medicine, where they can be more nurturing.”
QUESTION: “Please tell me about your role models.”
ELIZABETH: “In college, my role models were my professors. They had a lot of knowledge. In my career, my supervisor has been my role model. Ken Szala has been my supervisor now for many years. I say he is my role model because I try to emulate him. His ability to put Civil Engineering concepts and principles into constructible projects is excellent. I also emulate him because of his high level of ethics.
QUESTION: “What was your favorite project?”
ELIZABETH: “I have worked on hundreds of projects. I can’t say that one in particular was my favorite. Being in land development, I have had the privilege of working on many diverse projects from small retail stores to large hotels and restaurants. I’ve also worked on trail projects, parks and streetscapes. I have really enjoyed each project with their own unique challenges to overcome. I also really enjoy being able to see the site under construction. It excites me to have my designs actually being constructed.”
QUESTION: “Would you have any advice for women considering the field of Civil Engineering?”
ELIZABETH: “My advice would be for anybody, not just women considering Civil Engineering. Talk with more than one person who is a practicing Civil Engineer. Visit at least one place of business to see the inner workings. Actually witnessing engineers during the occurs of a day and speaking with them can give you a much better understanding of what a career in this field can involve.”
Elizabeth Heggi is a Professional Engineer at P. Joseph Lehman, Inc. Consulting Engineers working in the Land Development and Building Systems Department. She can be reached through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 814-695-7500.