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Introducing a Florida girl to engineering

For "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day," our Florida engineers did just that. Here they discuss her experience in the profession.

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Submitted by Kasey Weaver – and others! (Sarasota, FL)

In honor of Engineers Week in the US and its annual “Girl Day” (today) we are, well, introducing engineering to a girl. Meet Kasey Weaver, a high school intern at Stantec in Sarasota, Florida. Here Kasey and her co-workers share a conversation about engineering, the need for mentorship, and the types of exposure kids are getting today to the engineering industry.

How did you become interested in engineering?

Kasey: I am a senior at Riverview High School and am highly involved at school. I am short stop on the softball team and a member of the Executive Internship Program, which lets students explore the work place and helps with their career choices. I chose to intern with an engineer to gain more experience and knowledge about the field and to confirm my career choice of becoming an engineer.

In 8th grade (in Alabama) my teachers had us research what type of career we would be willing to pursue. Having a love for math and science, I researched stable jobs dealing with math and science and, of course, engineering popped up. That same year, one of the high school teachers came to the middle school to recruit 8th grade students to the Engineering Academy. I immediately signed up and was accepted in. All throughout my freshman and sophomore years, I was involved in the Engineering Academy where we were introduced to many different types of engineering. My favorite became Civil Engineering after we had a class project to design and build a bridge. The project contained lots of creativity and lots of math which was right up my alley.

Kelly Blake, PE: Growing up, I never questioned the construction, material, or design of everyday items I used. I never built things or blew things up (except that one time). If I had a glimpse of engineering and how all-encompassing it is, I may have spent more time developing mechanical reasoning skills that engineers use every day. These skills are not taught in colleges. I had a lot more catch-up to do on the job in comparison to my peers who were building and creating as kids.

Samantha Nehme, EI:  When I was growing up my mom was constantly making sure that I was challenged in and out of school. Her encouragement and commitment was vital to my success but most important to me was that she had unwavering high expectations of my capabilities. It is important for teachers to have high expectations as well and to push their students beyond what they think they are capable of. I think this is really important for girls because they often underestimate themselves.

What influence has internships or job training had on your career choice?

Kasey: I moved to Sarasota during my junior year and started attending Riverview High School where the Engineering Academy was not offered. However, the school did offer the Executive Internship Program. That led me to my internship this year with Stantec.

Samantha: I think that an internship experience is the best way for a student to know if they should continue following the career path they have chosen. Staying in college a little longer is better than graduating, getting a job and thinking “WHAT DID I DO?” I think the internship programs in high school are just as important because they can help a student narrow down what they want to study in college or maybe they find out vocational school is for them.

Lindsay Marten, EI: I wish I had the opportunity to shadow young female engineers in my community at such a young age,  but unfortunately internship programs were not offered at my high school. I see how Kasey has grown in the short time that she has interned at Stantec and how important this process is to her career selection. This has allowed her to not only observe professionals, but also interact with them which is something that a high school Calculus class simply can’t offer.

Danielle Bertini, EI: Sometimes what you do in school and what you do on the job are different and it would be nice for students to get a better understanding of what different professionals really do on a day to day basis. You can study all about the need for sewer repair, but nothing in school prepares you for what you see (and smell) on the job (or in a manhole)…  

What types of roles or jobs have you been exposed to while at Stantec?

Kasey: My experience here has been extraordinary. I work mainly with my Internship Sponsor, Kelly Blake, who has been my mentor and role model in this whole process. She's shown me that women engineers are highly respected and an integral part of the engineering teams, often serving in leadership positions. I’ve also developed relationships with the rest of the employees at Stantec and have been able to learn about what each of their jobs consist of and how it contributes to each project. For example, when one of the engineers needs a specialized visual of an area, they will go to Scott Popham, the CAD Technician. From there, he creates the image and sends it back to the engineers so that they have a visual for the client to look at.

Sometimes I work with the engineering interns. I like working with them because they are still in the process of becoming professional engineers, just like me. Of course they have much more experience than I do so I learn a lot from them. They have taught me to ask lots of questions and often seek advice. I even have the opportunity to sit in on meetings when they are held at Stantec.

Danielle: As a new engineer, it still feels a little awkward to tell people that I am an engineer when they ask me what I do. I have had a range of reactions from, people thinking I am a train conductor, to a deer in headlights. As a female, I have a deep sense of pride and accomplishment in saying that I’m an engineer… well, a new engineer. When I think of the challenges of becoming an engineer, being female never crossed my mind. Of course, I was always thrilled when I got the highest grade on a midterm, better than all of the guys!

Lindsay: I remember my first day as an engineer at Stantec. I was sitting in my cubicle overhearing my fellow colleagues talk with clients over the phone, deliberating projects scopes, and discussing pump station design.  I remember thinking to myself, “What on earth are they talking about?  How am I ever going to keep up?  I’m in way over my head!” Being the youngest and newest member of the team at the time was very overwhelming, but also exciting. I knew I had to prove myself, but I was eager to learn. I realized that the key to success was to make myself available to as many engineers I could, work on as many projects as possible, and most importantly to not be afraid to ask questions. In my three short years at Stantec, I am very proud of the confidence and responsibility I’ve acquired. I am now managing my own projects, interfacing with clients on a daily basis, and running meetings. It’s a great feeling to see growth in myself and the other young professionals I work with.  

What is one thing you’ve learned on the job as an engineer?

Kasey: Throughout my experience, I have learned that the key to a successful project is communication. Having no real-world experiences with engineering prior to my internship, I did not realize the amount of communication needed for a successful project. Kelly and the other engineers are constantly emailing back and forth with clients and other engineering firms to make sure everyone is on the same page. They also hold many meetings to discuss and show visuals of the progress.

Samantha: Communication skills are invaluable in almost every profession and there are abundant opportunities to refine and hone these skills. One of the few upsides of waitressing in and after college was that my communication skills were always improving. I learned to talk to just about anyone. I believe that we can always improve on this skill. In engineering it is very important to communicate ideas and information in an understandable way to your audience, which can be very different based on the type of audience.

Scott Popham: Communication is key in relation to what is expected on both sides. Getting started on the right path ensures that everyone is working in a productive efficient manner. We all like to think we know what is expected, but a little communication can go a long way. I like to think that the only dumb questions are the ones that are not asked. It’s OK to not know “everything.”

Kasey: This aspect has really come in to play with a project I am currently working on with my high school. The school has decided to build a nature trail and asked me to be a part of it. We are currently going through the same process an engineer would for a regular project and Kelly has helped me along the way. My job entails structuring the master plan and helping with project coordination and communication. It has proven to be quite difficult especially when the people working on the project are all spread out and involved in other things. Kelly has given me tips for better communication and has helped guide me through the beginnings of the master plan process. I have also been able to utilize my resources at Stantec. The school needed a large aerial image of the area they are working on. I was able to work with Scott to create that image and bring it in to one of the meetings that I held.

What do you take away from this experience?

Kasey: Stantec has shown me to the real world of engineers and has confirmed my choice of engineering as a career. In the future I hope to attend Florida State University where I will be carrying out the rest of my education and pursuing my master’s degree in civil engineering. I hope more women carry out careers in professions which have traditionally been dominated by men.

Lindsay: Having a high school intern in the office and learning of the program that Kasey is involved with shows that schools are starting to put more effort in career paths at an earlier age. When I was in high school, internship programs were not available to me and having such a tool to guide me prior to attending college would have significantly helped my career choices. Kasey has already been exposed to so much and has adapted well at Stantec, which puts her ahead of her peers in terms of technical and professional development.

Danielle: You never know, maybe Kasey will motivate local schools to start an engineering-specific internship program.

Kelly: I think we are all so motivated to mentor, coach, and set examples for Kasey as she makes her decisions regarding secondary education. Many of us spent a long time in school or even went back, because we did not hear “our calling” in high school. We take the role of mentoring very seriously and are delighted to have Kasey as part of our team.

Scott: I am amazed at the enthusiasm by Kasey to be motivated enough at an early stage in life to know what she wants and to pursue it. With the willingness to put forth so much effort now will pay off dividends in the future. Kasey is an inspiration for her peers who look will up to her for advice and motivation. Not to mention a little of that inspiration has spread around this office. Not only does she want to learn, others are eager to teach.

Eager to share their experiences, Kasey's co-workers give advice.

L-R Scott Popham, Kelly Blake, Kasey Weaver, Lindsay Marten, Danielle Bertini, Samantha Nehme

“Stantec has shown me the real world of engineers and has confirmed my choice of engineering as a career.” - Kasey

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