Tag Archives: Women in Engineering

Math + Malaria: Correlating Passions

I am very excited to have Amanda on the blog today – she is a great example of someone who pursued a degree in one of the STEM subjects that have not yet been featured on the blog – she was a math major! She has a really interesting story because she was able to combine her aptitude for math with her desire to help people. I have no doubts you’ll really enjoy reading more about her and I hope you can find a way to do this yourself – combine your passions and pursue a career in that direction! 

My name is Amanda Brown Marusiak and I am currently a Public Health Associate at a large oil and gas company. My day to day job involves helping to develop programs to protect our workers from and educate them about infectious disease risks, from malaria to the flu. Our team monitors current outbreaks of disease worldwide to be prepared for what potential illnesses could come into our work facilities located all around the world. We also collect and analyze data about e effectiveness of our prevention and response programs in all our locations. You may wonder exactly how I ended up in this role, and it wasn’t the most straightforward path, but I have enjoyed every part of it, and have found a unique way to blend my passions and skills to benefit others.

Amanda Intro Collage

Although I knew I liked math, mostly because I was good at it, I entered Elon University in North Carolina as an undecided major. A couple of my professors helped me settle on mathematics, but I honestly had no clue what I would eventually do with my degree. Most people who found out I was a math major would ask me if I was going to be a teacher, which was not my ideal career path. Little did I know, I would have a seemingly un-math-related experience that would change everything.

My freshman year, I was accepted into a global service organization where I found my passion. It was a group of students working to build a health clinic in rural Ghana, west Africa, for people who had little to no access to health care. This was accomplished not by simply just raising money, but by learning about the culture of the people and understanding their needs and how we could best help them help themselves. It was a “teach a man to fish” sort of philosophy.

Amanda Ghana Collage In my sophomore year, I had an epiphany moment where a faculty mentor of mine proposed an idea that would combine both my skills in STEM and my interest in global development. I began a three year grant-funded research project to mathematically describe how malaria spreads between people and what prevention methods were most effective at protecting the most people. I felt like I had found the ultimate way to combine my skills to make the world a little better.

Amanda College Graduation, Reserach Cert

I ultimately decided my next step was to pursue a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in epidemiology (the study of disease patterns) at the University of Texas in Houston. While studying there, I secured an internship with the company I currently work for and was able to write my master’s thesis using data from the company’s malaria control program. After graduation, I dreamed of working for a non-profit to do some type of information analysis that had to do with infectious disease. Though I still have this hope, I have been lucky to be able to work in a similar role having an impact on a large amount of people in the private sector.


My advice to aspiring women in STEM is that you are not alone if you aren’t sure what you want to do yet. It takes time to really figure out your purpose, and that’s ok. Many people in their 40s, 50s and beyond are still searching. What I do know, however, is that pursuing a STEM degree opens so many more doors for you, because companies want and need diverse employees (women!) who are competent in a technical field, especially in today’s global economy.

Try to seek out ways that you can merge your skills with your passions – I know someone who was passionate about baseball and wanted to pursue a career in statistics, which could make for a match if you think about it. Your skills and passion may meet outside of the office, like for my husband who loves to design and build things as a mechanical engineer, but has a heart for dogs, so has found joy in helping the local dog shelter plan and eventually build a play and training area in their new facility.

Last, but not least, take every opportunity you can to travel. You will learn and grow in more ways than you could ever imagine. One of my favorite quotes is “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” While in college I had the opportunity to go to London, South Africa, and Ghana, which changed nearly my whole life perspective.

Amanda SA & London Collage I have now had the travel bug my entire adult life, because these college experiences inspired me to learn about other cultures and ways of life. Since then I have traveled to Europe and the Mediterranean, Central America, and now Asia. I am currently living in Ulsan, South Korea, with my husband who was also a STEM major, which gave him the opportunity to live and work here, and we enjoy almost every moment of life abroad. We even brought our two dogs with us – check us out at www.minnieandmurray.com!

Amanda Personal Travels

Good luck in your journey!

Cleaning Up the World! (Andrea – Civil & Environmental Engineer)

Today we have Andrea sharing her experience about how she has helped clean up the world, got her MBA, and now works in an entirely different industry! She’s a great example of how you can use your engineering degree as a foundation to do just about anything! I’m excited she’s on the blog today as she is a good friend from college and we had the amazing chance to travel to the other side of the world together while working on projects for school, but I’ll let her take it from here…

Engineering opens up opportunities.  Are you a curious person?  Are you always trying to figure out how things work?  Or how to make things better?  Do you like numbers and spreadsheets?  These are the things that attracted me to the engineering field and are essential building blocks to any career based in critical thinking.  I’ll share with you my experiences in engineering and business and how I’ve seen my technical background as a critical cornerstone to my career.

I went to Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and majored in Civil and Environmental Engineering.  During my junior year I had the opportunity to travel to Australia and New Zealand, with none other than the author of this blog – Erin!

Heevozz collage

Top: Traveling Around Australia – even trying surfing for the first time!
Bottom: Traveling around New Zealand – sea kayaking through Milford Sound was beautiful!

This international experience really drove my curiosity to explore new places and since then, I have travelled to Thailand, Italy, Brazil, Turkey, and Cyprus!  While these trips haven’t been related to my work, I surely wouldn’t have taken them if my undergraduate experience hadn’t spurred my interest in learning more about the world around me.

Hevey Travel Collage

Top Left: My boyfriend, Matt, and I in Thailand
Top Right: Making sure that we are on budget in Italy – I’m never too far from my spreadsheets…
Bottom: The Blue Mosque in Turkey

While I haven’t travelled internationally for work, I have had the opportunity to extensively travel the North East and work at various project sites to clean up pollution. Over the years, I’ve been based near New York City and Providence Rhode Island – two places with excellent restaurants, entertainment, and nightlife!

I loved working as an environmental engineering consultant.  I knew I was cleaning up the world and making it a better place every time I put on my field clothes.

6 - field selfie

My field selfie :)

My engineering role included a mix of office and field work.  In the field we tested materials to figure out what pollutants were present and where they were located.  Then in the office, we researched the history of the site – what types of businesses were there and what type of chemicals were used.  Using the information from the field and from research, we designed a strategy to clean-up the site.  Back in the field, we implemented our designs and cleaned-up the earth!

This is a wetland that was contaminated from a nearby business.  We dug out the polluted soil and replanted the area with trees and plants.  We witnessed baby deer playing in the area when it was restored (wish I had a picture to share – it was really cute!)  In this picture, we were checking out some of the nearby wells to gather data.

Hevey Work Collage 1

This is a picture from a landfill where we were installing a system to contain the naturally forming (but dangerous) gas that is generated as trash decomposes.  It’s difficult to tell in this picture, but the landfill was one of my favorite spots to visit – there is surprisingly a lot of wildlife!

9 - landfill

These pictures are from one of the coldest days that I’ve ever worked in the field.  We were installing wells but the driller’s equipment kept freezing and breaking, so we had a lot of downtime.  Luckily, we were working inside an air museum and there were a lot of interesting things to check out!  One of my favorite things about working as a consultant is that you get to travel to a lot of unique job sites and learn about new things.

Air and Space Collage

In addition to all the fun we had at work, my company and coworkers also did a lot of activities together on the weekends.

Out of Work Activities

Top Left: Building a house with Habitat for Humanity in Providence, RI
Top Right: Biking through the five boroughs of New York City on a bike tour – with our signature sombrero hats
Bottom Left: Zip lining and a ropes course for a team building event
Bottom Right: Playing softball each summer

Despite having all this fun, I realized that my quest for learning wasn’t over and I decided to go back to school.  I enrolled part-time to get my Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Bryant University.  I knew that at some point I would want to go back to school but had a difficult time deciding between a masters in engineering and a masters in business.  In the end I made my MBA decision because I could see the tremendous amount that I could learn and grow by studying a new field.

16 - animal

Learning about business was truly intriguing to me.  There was so much complexity and ambiguity.  When we turned in our tests, unlike engineering, there was no “right” answer.  You had to analyze the case, determine your recommendation, but then also articulate and argue your point.  It was fun!  I found that my technical background helped me to create a sound base for my arguments as I was always comfortable diving into the data to help in my analysis.  However, I had much to learn from my peers in marketing and public relations on how to present my ideas to gain support.

I was able to use my new business knowledge in engineering consulting, but realized that I wanted to focus on building my new skills.  I took on a new role as a business consultant in a different field – the insurance industry.  Why would they hire an engineer in an insurance company?  They were looking for structured thinkers who could solve problems creatively, learn new material quickly, and communicate effectively in a team.  And these are exactly the building blocks that I had to work with.  Engineering really opened the door for me to take on these new challenges!

Our team commutes into Boston often, and employees have access to the company’s commuter helicopter.  The first time I rode in it, it took all my self-restraint not to take an aerial picture of frozen Fenway.

Our team commutes into Boston often, and employees have access to the company’s commuter helicopter. The first time I rode in it, it took all my self-restraint not to take an aerial picture of frozen Fenway.

18 - room

My team is always working closely together so we have a collaborative working environment. No cubes, we all work together at the table. Our room is also decorated with an “industrial feel” to help spur creativity and help us think outside of the box in a typically traditional company.

The business consulting role is both exciting and challenging.  Our team uses advanced analytics and big data to improve business processes.  Although engineering experience was not a requirement in the job description, I see every day how my approach and technical nature shapes the work that I do and it provides me with a unique and effective perspective when approaching problems.  Though I miss some of my days out in the field, I don’t mind being inside when it’s below freezing!

Geaux Engineers! (Elizabeth – Mechanical Engineer)

This week, Elizabeth is going to tell us all about her path to engineering and how she’s been involved in several industries using her Mechanical Engineering degree. She was able to take advantage of some wonderful internship and co-op programs in college to get some good experience and now she works with me in Korea! She’s a great example of the wide range of choices you can pursue with an engineering degree; it is so versatile and can be applied to almost any industry! Read on and you’ll see! 

Hello!! I’m Elizabeth Beard, a Mechanical Engineer who graduated from Louisiana State University. Right now, I live in Okpo, South Korea with my cat (he is from the USA), but soon I will have the opportunity to rotate between Sakhalin Island, Russia, and Houston, Texas, to complete the project I am currently working on.

Beard Intro Collage

If we take a moment to rewind back to high school, this is when I first became interested in engineering. For science class, we all had to enter into the local science fair, but little did I know how much this would change my life. My project was on the accuracy of the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system and proving it mathematically. My project ended up winning at the State Science Fair and was noticed by the Army Corp. Next thing I know, I receive a letter in the mail from the Military asking me to attend a summer camp. Hesitant at first, but then I warmed up to the idea since this was only going to be a week. Turns out, this was the most awesome camp ever. It was geared towards our age group to introduce us into engineering types through different activities. We got to use and see all the technology the military and army uses (I mean like the helicopters to private software!!).

EB Army Camp Collage

Left: Our team won one of the activities and was congratulated by one of the Generals.
Right: My robot! He could throw a ping-pong into a jar. I built it, and my friend programmed it.

I encourage anyone who is interested in engineering to attend this camp. Please check out their website here. After this camp, I realized that I like figuring out how things work and mechanical engineering soon became my declared major in college… which leads me to the college days….


Geaux purple and gold! (fun fact: my sister is an electrical engineer from LSU!)

Not to bore you with details, but in college I was 100% confident that I did not want to join an Oil & Gas Company. Being raised in Louisiana, I thought oil and gas was nothing but plants and chemicals (this didn’t interest me). So I reached out to some mentors, asking for their help. More than anything, I wanted to work with home appliances. I was lucky to receive a Co-Op with General Electric in Louisville, KY. A Co-Op is where you go to school for a semester and then work with a company for a semester. During my rotations, I worked with Dishwashers and Washing Machines (see the pictures below). I also got to attend the Kentucky Derby and see snow for the first time! During my first rotation I helped invent a Dishwasher rack that was part of a patentable idea! Check it out here.

Signing a Patent (US # 8191560)!

Signing a Patent (US # 8191560)!

During my second and third rotations, I worked on washing machines. This was GE’s first washing machine without an agitator. I was in charge of consumer relations to make sure the design was ergonomic. On my third rotation, I actually developed and tested the algorithm for the washing machine (you know, the jeans/towels/delicates cycles).

EB Washing Machine Internship

After my Co-Op I continued my time at LSU being active via ASME and CxC (a Communication in Engineering Program). Senior Design finally came along, where our design project was a “One-man Mobile Deer Stand.”

Advertising for ASME during LSU Homecoming

Advertising for ASME during LSU Homecoming

The Deer Stand: In summary, one person could erect the 15ft stand in less than 10minutes. It also could be converted into a trailer that could be pulled behind an ATV.

EB Deer Stand

So how did I end up at ExxonMobil after being 100% positive I didn’t want to join an Oil & Gas Company? Well, at an ASME meeting, I heard about the Upstream Section of ExxonMobil. I applied for an internship, and was amazed at the complexity and challenges that it provided. I then accepted the full-time offer that was given to me! On Day #1 with my full-time job with ExxonMobil, I was told that I would be going to Hong Kong and Singapore. This started the flood of traveling that I would do!

EB Crab in Singapore

Two weeks after that trip, I joined the Sakhalin AD Project as a mechanical engineer, which led me to move to Okpo, South Korea! Work has been crazy, but it has also provided MANY travel opportunities that I never thought I would do. So far, I’ve been able to travel to England, France, China, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Hawaii, Thailand…and more adventures are planned.

EB Asia Travels Collage

EB Europe Travel Collage

As for the Project, it has been phenomenal to see it from paper to 3D model, to fabrication, to commissioning, and soon to start-up and drilling. I’ve grown not only as an engineer, but as a person. As nerve racking as it was to move to South Korea to work on this massive project, I wouldn’t trade it for anything!!

Checking out the view of our platform

Enjoying the views from the platform

EB Derrick Lift

The massive lift of the Derrick to the Platform

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my engineering adventures. If you would like to learn more about me, please visit my blog!

Now before I go, here are some words I would like to pass on…..

Don’t let people intimidate you.

What you put into something is what you will get out of it.

Be open to any opportunity, no matter how crazy or scary it seems.

Future Chem Eng Professor (Liz – Chemical Engineer)

Joining us today, we have Elizabeth Stewart who is currently pursuing her PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI. Liz and I met in college where we both got our bachelor’s degree in engineering – Liz in Chemical Engineering and mine in Mechanical Engineering. We had all kinds of fun and even got to take a flight over Worcester together in our trustee mentor’s plane to get an aerial view of our campus right before we graduated. She’s done some amazing things while continuing her education and I don’t want to spoil any of her stories, so read on to find out what she’s been up to…

Liz and Erin Flight over Worcester Rev1

Liz and I taking a flight over our college campus right before graduation our senior year!

Why did you become an engineer?

I became an engineer because I wanted to work on solving technical problems that have a big impact on society.  I chose to major in chemical engineering, so I could learn to think in a manner that is useful for solving a large variety of problems.  Chemical engineers work on problems across many scales ranging from the  creation of nanoparticles to the design of large manufacturing plants.

I know chemical engineers who are working in processing plants making chemicals, running nuclear reactors, designing medical devices, manufacturing consumer products, making wine, engineering microbes for next generation fuels, designing novel catalysts, the list could go on and on.  I think it is pretty amazing to be trained in a manner that is so versatile that it can be used to work on so many different types of problems.

Michigan Big House

The Big House in Ann Arbor aka where I have spent many, many fall Saturdays cheering on the team. The enthusiasm for Michigan football is highly contagious!

What kind of research do you work on?

I have always been particularly fascinated by biological problems.  Currently, I am using my engineering tools to research bacterial biofilms.  Bacterial biofilms are aggregates of bacterial cells surrounded by protective matrix materials (polysaccharides, proteins, and DNA) that are resistant to treatment with antibiotics.  Biofilms can form on medical devices and cause patients to become extremely sick.  I look at biofilms as a material and try to understand at a fundamental level how the structure and mechanics of biofilms impact their resilience.  Here is a shameless plug for a paper I wrote, if you want to check out some of my work.

I am also interested in engineering education and the best techniques for teaching engineers.  Engineers are often required to be interdisciplinary when tackling problems, so there has been an emphasis at universities on creating interdisciplinary learning environments.  In addition to my technical research, I have begun doing research to investigate interdisciplinary learning in graduate education.

What do you want to do when you finish your PhD?

My goal is to become a chemical engineering professor, so that I can teach other people the tools to approach the world as an engineer and continue to do my own research on scientific problems.

What places have you lived in or traveled to while studying or working as engineer? 

As an engineer, I have had the opportunity to live in Worcester, MA (WPI), Columbia, South Carolina (University of South Carolina), Bangkok, Thailand (Chulalongkorn University), Rochester, NY (ExxonMobil Chemical Films), & Ann Arbor, MI (University of Michigan).

When you do research for a living, you get to travel to meetings all over the world to discuss your work with other scientists and learn about the work that they have been doing as well.  During graduate school I have travelled to Nashville, TN, Salt Lake City, UT, Washington, DC, Lindau, Germany, Copenhagen, Denmark, Mount Desert Island, ME, Miami, FL, Boston, MA, and San Francisco, CA to learn and discuss research with others.

Here are some pictures from some of the exciting adventures I have had while traveling for work:

Here I am with my friend, Amy,  before the Country Music Awards (CMAs).  Lucky for me, the CMAs were the same week as the American Institute of Chemical Engineers meeting held in Nashville!

Country Music Awards

I took a trip with my labmates, Lilian and Aayush, to Canyonlands and Arches National Parks before our conference in Salt Lake City.

Liz Utah National Park Collage

I attended a short course on fluorescence microscopy at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratories in Maine.  The labs were right on the water, so it felt like summer camp for scientists.  In addition to learning microscopy and discussing science, I was able to use my fine honed New Englander skills to help with the lobster boil on the last day!

Liz at MDIB Labs in Maine Collage

I presented my work in Copenhagen, Denmark for the Eurobiofilms conference.  I saw some famous sights around the city, including Nyhaven (the New Harbor).  The conference attendees were welcomed very warmly with a reception at the Copenhagen Town Hall with town hall pancakes.  They were very tasty!

Liz Denmark Collage

Vinnie (my boyfriend) met me in Scandinavia and we travelled to Bergen, Norway after the conference.  In the pictures below, we are in front of Bryggen and then kayaking in the fjords. The fjords of Norway are one of the most beautiful places I have ever been!

Liz Norway with Vinnie

I went to Yosemite National Park with my brother, Andrew, soon to be sister-in-law, Hailey, and fellow Michigan Engineer, Huanan, before the AIChE Meeting in San Francisco.

Liz Yellowstone Collage

My research group had a reunion with current and past members in San Francisco.  It is great to connect with people with training similar to yours to see how they are doing and where their careers are taking them.

Liz Research Group Reunion

What is an interesting opportunity you have had through your career as an engineer?

One of the coolest opportunities I have had as an engineer was attending the Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates.  I highly encourage all young researchers to apply for this unique opportunity.  Young scientists and researchers from all over the world meet in Lindau, Germany to learn from the Nobel Laureates.  I attended the interdisciplinary meeting with laureates from physics, chemistry and physiology/medicine and it was an incredibly inspiring experience to hear about the scientific journeys of the laureates and my peers from across the globe.  I received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to attend the Lindau Meeting.

Lindau Meeting Collage

Left: NIH funded US delegates at L’Enfant Plaza in DC;
Right: Beautiful Lindau Harbor Entrance in Germany!

The American delegation of young researchers at the Lindau Meeting.

Nobel_Monday209I really enjoyed listening to stories and getting advice from Nobel Laureate Sir Harry Kroto with my roommate for the week, Markita as well as chatting with other young scientists.

Liz Nobel Prize Networking

I also had the chance to check out Lake Constance with Nobel Laureate Oliver Smithies.

Liz with Oliver Smithies

After the meeting, I took advantage of being in Europe and went on vacation with my Mom to Italy and southern France.

Liz in Europe Collage

Left: Me and my mom on the Arno in Florence, Italy; Right: Vineyard in Provence, France

Any advice to aspiring women interested in engineering?

  1. Work for people who you consider role models.  I am very fortunate that I am able to work for people who I have a great amount of respect for.  If I am able to teach, mentor and care for students in the way that my advisors work with me and their other students, I am certain I will succeed in my career.  If you don’t have the privilege to control this, seek out other mentors for this support.
  2. Build a support system of people who respect and care for you in and outside your field. Sometimes work is hard.  Research can consist of long days in the lab, analyzing data, or writing up results.  I will be honest.  The majority of your data will not be groundbreaking.  Share your life with people who will be there for you in the ups and downs of your work.
  3. Dream big and work on problems that inspire you.  Personally, I have found that I work best when I am working on problems that could lead to helping people in some way (even if the work may not be used for many, many years).  This drives me to work hard.  Some people are driven by seeing a product made in front of them, making the most efficient process possible, or working to lead companies to success.  Try to reflect on what inspires you to work hardest and pursue a career in that direction.

Thanks for reading this far and thanks to Erin for featuring me on her blog!

Engineers Can Do Anything! (Sydney – Chemical Engineer)

It is a pleasure to have Sydney Baker telling us about herself today – she is a recent graduate of my alma mater and she’s already had some pretty cool experiences. She’s full of energy and excited to be starting her career as an engineer working in a management field – she will show you can really do anything with an engineering degree! 

Introduce Yourself:

Hello everyone! My name is Sydney Baker, Worcester Polytechnic Institute Class of 2013. While I was in school, I majored in Chemical Engineering. I am currently working for General Electric Power & Water in their Operations Management Leadership Program. What that really means is that I hold roles in manufacturing, quality engineering, and sourcing. While it is not traditional engineering, I think it’s a really cool way to use my engineering education in more management focused roles. I currently live in Schenectady, NY (near Albany), but my program is rotational for the first two years, so who knows where I could be living next!


Why did you become an engineer?

I decided to become an engineer when I was a junior in high school. I liked science and math, so I figured – why not? I also had a chemistry teacher in high school who worked in industry for years before becoming a teacher. She was actually a member of a team that invented nicotine patches to help people quit smoking! To hear her talk about working in a technological field was fascinating and definitely inspired me to explore this world of opportunity!

What projects have you done while studying or working as an engineer?

When I was still in college, I got to work on my senior project in waste water treatment. Not only was it something that makes an environmental difference, but it was sponsored by GE, which helped me to get my full-time job offer. I also had the opportunity to travel to Cape Town, South Africa to pursue a project for my degree! While it was not as technical in nature, I definitely put my analytical skills and creativity that I learned from engineering to the test!


Have you had the chance to travel anywhere? If so, where and why?

Other than South Africa, I have gotten to go to training courses all over the US in order to learn all about manufacturing.


What is a fun/interesting opportunity you have had through your career as an engineer?

I think that the coolest thing I have discovered about a career after getting an engineering degree is that engineers can do anything! And I mean that! The skills that you learn about by studying math, science, and engineering are applicable in a wide range of fields. So if you’re not entirely sure what you want to do, go for engineering!


What have you enjoyed most about being an engineer?

Every day is different and I get to work on things that really make a difference in other people’s lives. Every day I get to go to work to solve problems in order to provide power to people in developing countries all over the world – pretty cool!


Any advice to aspiring women interested in engineering?

Remember, a girl can do whatever a boy can do…but while wearing high heels!


Embrace Your Inner Nerd! (Krista – Civil & Environmental Engineer)

I am very happy to have the wonderfully talented, Krista, on the blog today! She is a great example of someone who has pursued a career in engineering while maintaining her passion and  involvement in acting! I’ll go ahead and let her take it away…

Hi, My name is Krista Forti and I am a NERD. I am an engineer by day and an actress by night!

Photo 1 - wedding pic

Growing up I enjoyed math, science, problem solving, as well as singing and acting. I was the nerd who asked for extra algebra problems because it was so fun! I was also the nerd who was part of every single theatrical production at school. What can I say? It’s definitely a weird combination. When all my classmates graduated high school, many decided to pursue theater and acting in New York City. Not me!

Photo 2 - pigtails

One of the reasons why I decided to become an engineer is because I wanted a dependable job. Thinking back on it, this doesn’t seem like a real great reason. But at the time, it was extremely important to me. While my spontaneous friends were willing to spend (or have their parents spend) $50,000 a year for a theatre arts degree, I wanted to pursue a career that would provide a stable future; one where I wouldn’t have to depend on my parents, spouse, or friends. One where I wouldn’t have to work as a bartender between auditions just to afford housing. Going straight to New York City was a huge risk for me, and one that I was not willing to take.

Photo 3 - orange outfit

But why else did I want to become an engineer? It really came down to one moment in my life when I realized engineering could be fun. The moment was a simple conversation I had with my parents on the way down to the Outer Banks for our summer vacation. There had been recent article that was published in a local newspaper that stated that arsenic was found in the drinking water in the Outer Banks. The article urged vacation-goers to buy bottled water in lieu of drinking the tap water. This fascinated me. Who cleans the water? Who is responsible for making sure the tap is safe? Isn’t arsenic dangerous to drink, and shouldn’t someone work to eliminate the source of the arsenic instead of simply telling residents and vacation-goers not to drink the tap water? With all of these questions racing through my head, I was told that these are the types of problems that engineers solve. Hey, this could be fun, right?

Since that moment I graduated high school, attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Civil & Environmental Engineering. So here I am today, living outside of Boston with my wonderful husband, and working for an environmental consulting firm. And guess what I do? I am a water and wastewater treatment design engineer. In other words, I work with local municipalities and design treatment plants. Ok, I’m going to be straight with you. I intended to work in the water field, but somehow wastewater became a lot more interesting.

Photo 4 - pumps

So I am essentially a poop engineer. Go ahead and laugh! But the best part about my job is the ability to grow and learn about so many different types of engineering. Wastewater treatment design involves using a variety of skills such as mechanical engineering, chemistry, biology, management, construction administration, cost analysis, etc. Furthermore, I get to work with mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, structural engineers, and instrumentation and controls engineers. My everyday job involves a lot of office work where I am sizing equipment, performing plant hydraulic calculations, and designing pipe layouts for a new building. However, I also get the opportunity to visit wastewater treatment plants, attend town meetings, and witness equipment testing. These outings are my favorite part. Let’s be honest. I am a people person and a hands-on learner. I learn from going to the treatment plant to understand how equipment operates. My clients (municipalities) collaborate with me regarding their project needs and expectations . I love building strong relationships with my clients so that they will continue to work with us on future projects. Working as a wastewater treatment engineer and consultant , I have the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects and work with a variety of different people. This makes ‘going to work’ a little bit more exciting!

Photo 5 - clarifier

So what about the dreamers that went to New York to pursue acting? Some of them made it, some of them are still trying, and some of them pursued different careers. But me? I’m an engineer by day, and an actress by night! Musical theater is one of my passions, and I have been performing in the Boston area for the past three years. Do I get paid? No. Do I need to get paid? No way! I continue to perform on stage because it’s fun, and its considered one of my favorite sports! I don’t have to worry about auditioning for every single opportunity because I don’t rely on auditions to survive. I can rely on my own schedule and audition for the shows that I am interested in. I see it as the best of both worlds. I am able to continue progressing in my career as an engineer, continue crunching numbers and solving problems, but I can also continue my passion for acting.

Photo 6 - wedding scene

So what do I have to say to all of you aspiring women out there? First off, don’t be afraid to be a nerd! Embrace it! Just because you major in a technical field or pursue a technical career does not mean that you have to neglect your passion for painting, or soccer, or sky-diving, or broadcasting, or whatever your passion may be. Don’t be afraid of what makes you happy. Your future is in your hands. Sheryl Sandberg says it best in her novel titled Lean In. We should never hold ourselves back “by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.” So do me a favor, follow your inner-nerd, and lean in.

From Chips to Patents (Jenn – Mechanical Engineer)

To finish up National Engineers Week, here is the lovely Jennifer! She and I were roommates our senior year of college and took many classes together throughout our time at WPI. Jenn is a fantastic example of the breadth of options that engineering can give you. As you read, you’ll see that she’s worked for companies where you may not expect an engineer, but I’ll let her tell you a bit more about that! 

Introduce Yourself:

  • Jennifer Castriotta
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute Class of 2008 – Mechanical Engineering
  • Patent Examiner, US Patent and Trademark Office, Alexandria VA

JCass Picture 1Why did you choose to become an engineer?

Engineering is in my blood. I come from a long line of WPI grads including my grandfather, father, and mother. I actually bounced around a lot with what I thought I wanted to major in. I came in to college wanting to be a Physics Major, but then realized that I wanted the chance to actually build and create things, so I switched to Mechanical Engineering. One of the things I loved most about Mechanical Engineering was all the different directions you could take the major. I personally was more interested in Robotics, but I had friends who were interested in the biomedical field, Fire Protection, Aerospace, Manufacturing, and tons of other areas.

JCass Picture 2

What places have you traveled while working or studying as an engineer?

When I was a Junior, for my Interdisciplinary Qualifying Project (IQP), I had the opportunity to come work in Washington DC at the Smithsonian Institute with the National Zoo. Then the summer between my Junior and Senior years, I got the chance to do my Major Qualifying Project (MQP) in Wuhan, China.

JCass Picture 3 and 4 Rev1

I truly loved this opportunity! While in China I had the opportunity to visit Shanghai, Beijing, and some outlying areas including The Great Wall of China.

JCass Pictures 5 and 6

Post graduation I traveled to Connecticut, New York, Texas, Virginia, and returned to Washington DC.

JCass Picture 7

What is a fun/interesting opportunity you have had through your career as an engineer? 

When I first graduated college, I worked for Frito Lay as an Operations Resource in both Maintenance and Packaging. One of the best parts about my job (besides doing Quality tests for fresh Doritos and Salt & Vinegar Lays) was that I was responsible for the production a product that every single person in America recognized. I was also given the opportunity to meet and work with the foremost experts in Potato Chip and Tortilla Chip Manufacturing. I’ll even let you in on a little secret… On every Frito Lay product bag there’s a 9 digit code that tells you a lot about the chips inside. New England Pride moment- If your bag reads #66######, the chips were made at the Killingly, CT facility!

JCass Pictures 9 and 10

After about three and a half years, I decided that I needed a change and took a chance with a new opportunity working at the US Patent and Trademark Office as a Patent Examiner. In my current career I get the chance to see some of the latest and greatest inventions in the country. In the last two years I have had 13 published patents with several more on the way!

JCass Picture 10What have you enjoyed most about being an engineer? 

I think that the thing I have enjoyed most about being an engineer is meeting other amazing female engineers and getting to learn from them. Being a female engineer is a special bond that is hard to explain to outsiders. Traditionally speaking, the world of engineering is a male dominated field. The most influential women in my life are engineers – they’re the smartest, most outgoing, driven, independent, spunky, creative, and talented people I have ever met. Women as a whole have a tendency to be underestimated, and nothing makes me happier than constantly seeing female engineers meet and far exceed people’s expectations of us!

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Where to Next?! (Gaby – Chemical Engineer)

To kick off Engineering Week, Gaby will tell us her story of what she’s been up to while studying and working as an engineer. I knew her while at school and have had the chance to work with her in Houston – she has more energy and enthusiasm than anyone you will meet and it’s contagious so it always brings the group up wherever she is. What’s great is that she takes the time to learn at least 3 new things from everywhere she lives – she’s had some great experiences, so read on…

My goal in my twenties: visit a new country every year! This obsession started at WPI, where I studied chemical engineering (and where I attended university alongside some of the fantastic women who have previously written on Erin’s blog). I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and experienced some of the impacts of cultural differences when I moved to Massachusetts. But it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to spend several months in the poorest areas of Thailand that I learned  just HOW MUCH you could truly gain when you step through these cultural boundaries. There was no turning back.

Thailand (right - Elephant Park; Left - Wat Pho aka Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

Thailand (right – Elephant Park; Left – Wat Pho aka Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

I interned with ExxonMobil my junior year in Miami, FL. I got to travel to Panama, Fairfax, Houston, and Ft. Lauderdale and did everything from gauging oil tanks, to observing the Panama Canal, and having some of the best meals I had eaten in my life! I received a full time offer from ExxonMobil and moved to Houston, Texas! There, I joined an organization which helps manage the engineering, construction, installation, integration, and commissioning of future oil & gas facilities all over the world. This brings me to the three miscellaneous things I learned in Houston:

1. Bullfighting and being a rodeo clown is a lot harder than it looks: I have been to the Houston Rodeo for four straight years and fully intend to make this year the fifth. The food, crowds, the music, and did I say the food? You can get fried Oreos!!! Yumm!

Gaby Houston Rodeo

At the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo – over 75,000 spectators!!

2. Indulging in the local cuisine is always a good idea: Tex-Mex restaurants (a combination of Mexican cuisine with the tendencies of food products in American cities) are abundant in Texas and are absolutely fantastic! And…it’s official, I cannot eat too much guacamole!

3. Always Root for the Home Team: This might come as a shock to you, but I am not a professional football player, baseball player, or any sport for that matter. So instead, I attended as many Houston Texans, Astros, and Rockets games as possible. If you want to feel included among the people of wherever your travels take you, go to a sports match (whatever the sport may be!), you’ll definitely feel included!

At the Houston Texans Season Opening Game

At the Houston Texans Season Opener

Then, in April 2010 I was offered an assignment which included a three week trip across Europe including Paris, among other cities. I could not have said “Oui!” any faster. There, I met with different members of the oil & gas industry to collect market information. About a year later, my Canadian adventure began. I was doing two week rotations to St. John’s, Newfoundland (where I call home today). In April 2012, I officially moved to St. John’s. Here, I am part of the project management team of the Hebron Project: the end goal is an offshore platform which will be taller than a 10 story building and have a topsides operating weight heavier than 30,000 cars! I work closely with our contractors to enable leadership’s ability to make decisions affecting the overall cost and end date of the project. And this brings me to the three miscellaneous things I have learned in St. John’s:

1. Don’t be afraid to kiss a fish: I learned the hard way, but now I know - Codfish DO NOT turn into Prince Charming. Wondering why I would do such a thing?! Well…Newfoundlanders are incredibly welcoming and have an official ceremony to allow newcomers to become honorary Newfoundlanders by engaging in their old tradition of getting “screeched-in.” Naturally, I partook in this ceremony, where I was required to kiss a cod and repeat the following phrase: “Deed I is, me ol’ cock! And long may yer big jib draw!” which actually means “Yes I am, my old friend, and may your sails always catch wind.”

Gaby St. Johns

Top – Overlooking the city of St. John’s from the East Coast Trail Hike; Bottom Left – Whale Watching off the coast of Newfoundland; Bottom Right – Cape Spear, the most easterly point in North America!

2. Snow doesn’t shovel itself AND ice and I do not get along: This was a pretty disappointing finding. Somehow in college, I never had a problem with this. I’m not sure what happened. True, shoveling is no one’s favorite activity, but my goodness does winter bring some beautiful sights! Even if you have lived in a winter city your whole life, go and play in the snow this weekend! I gave curling a try, and really enjoyed myself. Interestingly, I spent more time sitting on the ice than standing; and by sitting, I mean slipping.

Gaby Snow Collage

Top Left – my first shoveling experience and it took 7 hours!; Top Right: View on my running route; Bottom: my first “tobbagan” ride!

3. Hockey = football: Ok, so maybe they’re not the same sport but I have your attention. Canadians absolutely LOVE hockey! At least half of the TV commercials involve hockey in one way, shape, or form. If you can’t beat them, join them. Go St. John’s Ice Caps!!!!!

Hockey Fans in Canada

I majored in chemical engineering and minored in management. My favorite classes were differential equations and organic chemistry, but my current job involves working with people more than anything else. From all the skills I learned in university I find teamwork, leadership, and adaptability are the ones which have helped me the most. I feel like the opportunities are ENDLESS, and fully intend to take advantage of them. This brings me to my final list of three miscellaneous things I have learned:

1. Roll with the Punches: It is possible for your luggage to travel more than you – fact. Funny story – In June 2012, I planned the perfect trip to Brazil, only to realize en route, you need a tourist visa to enter the country. My luggage ended up in Brazil and I ended up in Hawaii the next morning. (Don’t worry, I made it to Brazil the following year). Can’t complain, but lesson learned: do your homework. And, you never know, sometimes the unplanned moments turn out to be even more memorable than what you had originally planned so keep an open mind and just roll with whatever comes your way.

Gaby Rio and Hawaii

Right: Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro; Left: Set of Jurassic Park (and many other movies/tv shows including LOST) in Oahu, HI

2. Don’t be afraid to try something new: No matter where you go, you will meet some incredibly interesting and impressive people. I have picked up a new hobby probably every year since I left school. I skied, ran a half marathon, ran a full marathon, surfed, went hang gliding, skydiving, bungee jumping, rappelling, zip lining, spelunking, four wheeling, and white water rafting for the first time ALL within the last five years. Get out there, get involved, make a difference and I GUARANTEE you will be changed.

Gaby New Hobbies

Top Left: Ziplining at Petty Harbor; Top Right: Mud Run in Bay Roberts;
Bottom Left: White water rafting through the Macaé River; Bottom Right: Hang gliding over Ipanema Beach

Gaby Adventures

Spelunking inside Angeles Cave, Camuy; Surfing off the shores of Hawaii; Skiing for the first time in Lake Tahoe

And last but certainly not least,

3. Never say _ _ _ _ _: It’s funny, I have been chasing Erin everywhere she goes for years. Her move to Korea was the first I did not follow. But hey, never say never. I’ve also done a lot of things that I never expected but have thoroughly enjoyed them all! Engineering has been a great path for me to see the world, try new things, meet some amazing people, and be a part of exciting projects!  So the million dollar question is now….Where to next?!

Erin & GabyThanks for sharing your story, Gaby! I can’t wait to see where you end up next!

Let’s get girls interested in Engineering!

Lately, I have been featuring some of my fabulous engineering friends on the blog and I’d like to tell you a little more about why I’m doing that. There are some big problems in the world and we need more people signed up to tackle those challenges  - the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects are one of the keys to solving these issues.  I think there is truly something special about a mix of men and women solving these problems; however, if you look at the statistics, women are in the minority within these fields. As a woman in engineering, it is really important to me to encourage the next generation of females to pursue a career within these areas.  It’s a wonderful career path for people (both men and women) and can give them incredible opportunities! My goal is to feature a lot of other female engineers and their stories in hopes that it will inspire someone to follow in our footsteps. So far, you have met Jen, Kristen, Morgan, Kim, and Kristin - all fantastic role models with great experiences within engineering! I also have others coming your way, so please stop by to learn more!

Me volunteering at Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day in 2010

Volunteering at Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day in 2010


The timing is great because next week is National Engineers Week and there is a special day devoted to Introducing Girls to Engineering. For several years while we were living in Houston, I planned this event for our company & community. We always had a group of 70 – 80 amazing young girls from Houston schools who were interested in the world around them and left the day excited to continue to learn even more about engineering. It was one of my favorite events because we got to see the girls’ eyes light up with fun science experiments and the realization that engineers are pretty darn cool. Be sure to look in your area to see if there are any events that you could volunteer at, attend, or encourage others to check out!


To celebrate this week, I will be featuring two great women on the blog – be sure to check back to learn more about them! If you have any questions or are interested in being involved by writing an article for my blog, please let me know! I would love to work with you! Also, if you would like to ask me questions about being an engineer, please feel free to add a comment or send me an email – I’m always happy to help!

Fire Protection What? (Kristin – Fire Protection Engineer)

Today, we have one of my role models – she’s been like a big sister to me since we met in college. I am so happy our paths crossed in college because we have been best friends ever since – she was even a bridesmaid in my wedding!  She’s a fantastic person and I think you are absolutely going to love hearing about what she has done with her engineering degree. Take it away, Kristin…

So my good friend Erin asked if I would write about my work adventures and travels in her blog and I was so excited! Ironically, I am sitting here at Logan Airport in Boston waiting to board my plane to Orlando. I am heading there to teach a seminar and thought there was no better time to write about my journeys. Thanks, Erin for inviting me to be a part of your blog!

2008 Graduation

Erin & Kristin at WPI Graduation 2008

It’s inevitable. As I sit in my window seat (you can see so much more of the world from a window seat) another traveler sits beside me, says hello, and after some small talk asks the question “so, what do you do for work?” I answer with “I am a fire protection engineer.”

“A fire protection, what?”

“A fire protection engineer.”

<insert confused look here>

Co-Workers and I at St Louis Arch

Co-Workers and I at St Louis Arch

My road to fire protection engineering began at WPI (I met Erin and Ryan at WPI!) when I saw a flyer on the wall in the Civil Engineering building. Simply put, I thought it sounded interesting so I applied for the Master’s program, and the rest is history. Currently, I work at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in Quincy, MA. I started here as an intern in 2006 and signed on as a full time fire protection engineer in 2007. I have been there ever since.

Food Trucks in Austin, TX

Food Trucks in Austin, TX

My job is not easy to explain, hence the puzzled look I often get from inquisitive people I meet in my travels. I don’t sit at a desk and crunch numbers on a calculator, I don’t design things, I don’t build things, I don’t even really do math. I like to think of myself more as an information engineer.

Standing in front of my document, NFPA 80, at the INTERSEC Conference in Dubai

Standing in front of my document, NFPA 80, at the INTERSEC Conference in Dubai

NFPA produces and publishes over 300 codes and standards used around the world related to fire and electrical safety. I work primarily with issues dealing with building construction and people protection from fire. I work with the volunteers whose expertise contributes to the development of these codes and standards and I work to communicate the technical issues and safety messages of the codes that I work directly with. Education, information, engineering, safety, fire…..it’s all part of my job. And I love it.

Waiting for the elevators inside the St. Louis arch

Waiting for the elevators inside the St. Louis arch

A big part of my job is travel. I travel to the code meetings, to conferences, seminars, workshops, and to industry events to talk fire safety. While most of my travels are within the US, I have had the opportunity to travel to a few international destinations, which I am so thankful for.

Travel Richer Quote


My favorite trip, by far (no pun intended) was Dubai in the UAE. I fell in love with this city (don’t worry London, it hasn’t replaced you yet.) In January 2013 I had the opportunity to travel to Dubai for a global fire safety conference. There I gave several presentations on fire safety issues, met with government officials on code adoption issues, and learned so much about fire safety in the Middle East. Above all, I made sure to make time to see such a beautiful and unique country. I actually arranged my travels to allow myself an extra day on the trip to do some sightseeing on my own.

Standing with a falcon at the INTERSEC conference in Dubai

Standing with a falcon at the INTERSEC conference in Dubai

Dubai is home to so many of the world’s biggest and tallest and grandest things. While there I got to see the following record breaking places:

  • The Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building
  • The Dubai Mall and the Mall of the Emirates – the biggest malls in the world
  • Ski Dubai – the world’s biggest (and only?) indoor ski resort
  • JW Marriott Marquis Dubai – this is the hotel I stayed in, and it is currently the world’s tallest single use hotel property
  • Burj Al Arab – the world’s only 7 star hotel (I did NOT stay here)
  • The Palm islands – the World’s biggest man-made islands.
  • And more!
In front of the base of the Burj Khalifa (World's Tallest Building)

In front of the base of the Burj Khalifa (World’s Tallest Building)

My travels for NFPA have taken me to 3 different countries (England, The Netherlands, and The United Arab Emirates), and over 30 different cities throughout the United States. Whether it’s an hour from home, or half way across the world, I have learned that each place has something special to offer its visitors; whether it’s the tallest building in the world or world famous food (I never forget to experience the food.) I would have experienced these things without the opportunity to travel.

I always bring my camera to the big cities

I always bring my camera to the big cities

Fun in Amsterdam

Fun in Amsterdam

I have learned a lot from traveling. In conclusion, I will leave you with some advice and travel recommendations:

  • Always make time to explore your destination. When traveling for work it’s often tricky to make time for sightseeing. Do it. You never know when you will have the opportunity to go back. I always make an effort to find a local restaurant, or site that a city is known for. You won’t ever regret it.
  • Don’t be afraid to travel alone (just be responsible.) I traveled more miles in Dubai and Amsterdam, most on foot, in the time I had alone then I ever imagined I would have. It was amazing.
  • Pick the window seat. From the window seat of the airplane I have seen better views of the grand canyon, Hoover Dam, Chicago, New York City, cascade mountains, lights of the middle east city skylines, and the pacific coastline then I could have ever had on the ground.
  • Eat local food. I LOVE food. Some of my favorite memories of traveling are the times I’ve spent at restaurants with colleagues, new and old, enjoying the local food. I’ve eaten the best tacos in San Diego, the best BBQ in Austin…or was it Memphis. I’ve eaten at food trucks, fancy steakhouses, and local dives, and love them all. Food brings people together.
The BEST Food Truck in Austin, TX

The BEST Food Truck in Austin, TX

  • Be thankful. I had a 7+ hour flight delay out of Dubai, had to spend the night in the airport, got booked on a completely new flight itinerary, and then missed a connection in London to get back home to Boston. It was stressful. But I would do it all again in a heartbeat just to travel and see a new city. I am thankful for the opportunities that I have had to travel where I have, even if it is just small town USA. There is much more to this country than I ever imagined. I am thankful for an education that has gotten me to a job where I have this opportunity and thankful for a job that trusts me to travel to and From places like Dubai and get back in one piece.
instagramming in St. Louis

Creative instagramming in St. Louis

Alliance of Young Engineers at the Society of Fire Protection Engineers Conference

Alliance of Young Engineers at the Society of Fire Protection Engineers Conference

There are days when I wake up and dread packing my suitcase, or curse at the flight delays or sitting in a taxi in traffic as I wait to get to a hotel. But, as I continue traveling and seeing new places, meeting new people, and seeing the world, I will take these little bumps in the road anytime.

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