Early in her career, when Tinnah Medina was on a construction site, she would look around to count how many women were in the same room as her. She was usually the only one.
“But you know that’s what you don’t want to do,” Medina, associate vice-president of Facilities Management at Fresno State, said to an audience of young girls last week. “You don’t want to think of yourself as a female in an industry. You want to think of yourself as an engineer as part of that team.”
Students ranging from 5th to 12th grade from six schools, were invited to join members of the Lyles College of Engineering in the Satellite Student Union last Thursday for a discussion on “Women in Engineering” during National Engineering Week. The discussion was moderated by Jenny Toste, Fresno State social media specialist, and featured local engineers like Medina.
The panelists shared why they chose a career in engineering, and what they love most about the job.
“What I really enjoy about being an engineer is just really seeing your project come to life,” said Diana Gomez, Central Valley regional director for the California High-Speed Rail Authority. “You see it on paper and then you go out in the field and you see it being constructed.”
Gomez said the high speed rail project is especially meaningful because it is something that could have an effect throughout the state.
Vanida Beigy, senior project manager for Precision Civil Engineering, Inc, said she knew she wanted to be an engineer when she was a young girl. She began working at a firm while she attended college. That hands on experience solidified her passion for engineering.
Beigy said her favorite part of the job is showing her children the projects she works on from start to finish, like the expansion of attractions at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
The young women in the audience were told that they shouldn’t consider themselves to be “a woman in a man’s world.” Terra J. Mortensen, project manager for Galloway Planning, Architecture and Engineering, said that young women thinking about pursuing a career in engineering should simply enjoy their career and have a positive attitude.
“I’m not going to deny that there are unique challenges that you need to understand and figure out how to work around in an industry that has historically been predominantly men,” Mortensen said. “But I have never found value in my career by focusing on that.”
The panelists encouraged the young girls to seek mentorships and to not be afraid to ask for help, especially as they move further into their careers.
“When I was doing my PhD, I was a mom,” said Dr. Brissa Quiroz, from the Fresno State Lyles College of Engineering Valley Industry Partnership for Cooperative Education. “I have two kids so it’s really hard to balance how you be a mom and work and all of these things. Who can I trust [to help]? I needed that support. I need that friend that is telling you don’t quit, keep going and going.”
Quiroz said she found support from her best friend, her husband and her mother.
“It’s part of the balance. I think as a woman you always feel guilty that [you’re] not a good mom, but you’re good because you’re providing an example for your children,” she said.
Medina said that, most importantly, prospective women in engineering should continue to be educated and should follow their own curiosities. She added that they must accept that they might fail at times. Such advice was useful not only for the young students, but for current female engineering students.
“It was nice to hear other people’s opinions about being in the engineering field just in general,” said Kate Appleby, a senior mechanical engineering student. “Knowing it’s OK to fail, it’s okay to feel like you’re not enough even though you probably are and like just that sort of empowerment.”
Carlos Quevedo, a school counselor for Golden Valley Elementary School who chaperoned a group of 5th graders, hopes Fresno State continues hosting events for elementary students to expose them different career paths.
“I think it was a wonderful experience for our kids. It’s great exposure, wonderful speakers,” he said. “The thing that I really liked is that they offered to have the kids come and watch what they do on the job which is really awesome.”