Profiles: Young Engineers

Profiles: Young Engineers

Name: Jennifer Harrell, of Fort Myers, Florida.
Designation: Engineering Intern.
Employer: Dave Douglas & Associates, Inc.
Education: B.S. Civil Engineering, University of Kansas.
Major Job Responsibilities or Projects: drainage, paving, sewer, and water system design for commercial, industrial, and residential development; utility and transportation engineering design; project management; and coordination of client, utility, and government agency staffs.
NSPE Affiliations: NSPE Legislative and Governmental Affairs Committee; PEI Young Engineer Advisory Council; Kansas Society of Professional Engineers (KSPE), Topeka Chapter; and Florida Engineering Society (FES), Calusa Chapter.

Q. You recently sat for the PE licensing examination. What would you tell a young engineer who might be "on the fence" about taking the exam?

A. Prepare. Be sure to find out when the PE application is due and get started on it at least a few months before it is due for submission. This will get you into the mindset for the exam and concentrating on the discipline on which you've decided to be tested. I would also suggest developing an outline of which subjects you need to study, and decide how much time you want to prepare for the exam. I drafted my outline six months prior to the exam date. Being organized, prepared, and staying calm are the keys for a successful examination.

Q. In addition to taking the PE exam, you also just completed a job transition. What do you think are the key elements in finding new employment?

A. Knowing what you would like to be involved in day-in-and-day-out, along with experience, skills, availability and, most importantly, attitude, are key elements. I was lucky. I didn't really have any problems. All of my interviews were straightforward and to the point, while at the same time being pleasant, generous, and thoughtful. When it came time to make some final decisions, it was an extremely difficult selection process.

Q. While you were interviewing for a new job position, what qualities or attributes were you looking for in an employer?

A. One of the most important attributes I look for is good chemistry between myself and an employer. It is essential to work with people that speak the same language and can relate and understand both your professional and personal needs. Also, I look for an employer who can use my stronger skills, rather than my weaker ones. For example, I'm an outgoing, active individual with good people skills. I would prefer a job where I can interact with clients and the general public. I thrive on pressure and challenges, whereas I get a bit "fidgety" if I sit in one place all day long.

Q. As a member of the PEI Young Engineer Advisory Council, what do you perceive as this group's most challenging tasks ahead?

A. I believe-as several other members on the council do-that the biggest hurdle is getting young engineers interested in joining NSPE. We have found that most young engineers do not know the value of participating in a professional society, nor do they know that you don't have to be a licensed PE to become a member of the Society. Other reasons why young engineers are not participating are related to cost and a lack of understanding regarding the benefits of Society membership for young engineers.

Q. At the local and state level, you have participated in various NSPE programs and activities that encourage K-12 students to consider engineering as a career choice. What have been your specific roles in these efforts?

A. My coworkers and I have often visited middle schools to help educate students about engineering. We tell them what our everyday roles as engineers are and explain other engineering responsibilities, too, as we know them. We also show videos and give students the opportunity to ask questions. It's amazing how many they ask, and how involved and excited they are after learning what engineering's all about. These activities help inform our future decision-makers about engineering and the value that engineers bring to the world. Through NSPE involvement and leadership, I hope to see these types of programs expand, and I also hope that more engineers realize the importance of being more vocal about their vital roles in society.

Q. Career goals play an important role in the professional development of all engineers, but particularly young engineers, who are just beginning to forge a career path. What networking or mentoring opportunities are available to help guide you up the career ladder?

A. I am very fortunate to be affiliated with a company such as Dave Douglas Associates, as well as my former employer in Bonner Springs, Kansas, Delich, Roth & Goodwillie. These companies not only have allowed me to join professional societies, they have encouraged me to get out there and serve on their committees and be involved in their activities and programs. I believe networking is key to the success of any engineering firm. Without networking, I wouldn't be able to show my passion and excitement on what I love to do. Without mentoring, young engineers might not make the correct decisions nor have the ability to engineer effectively.

Q. Your involvement on civil engineering projects has afforded you valuable experience in transportation and environmental engineering. Would you ever consider a career in public service?

A. Yes, I would consider a career in public service or municipality work, but I believe I'm not thoroughly educated at this point in my career to take a position right now. I think the most important credential for a government position is a comprehensive background. Without being knowledgeable in several different areas, an engineering public servant would not be able to make sound, educated, and moral decisions.

Q. Do you think being a woman engineer is an advantage or disadvantage in today's job market?

A. That's a very tough question to answer. It could be both. It really depends on what kind of engineering job, with whom you'll be working, and at what level you're at in your career. Through my interviewing process, I didn't encounter any differences with regard to my gender. Every employer I interviewed with focused on my attitude, combined with my skills; basically, what I can bring to the table.

Q. Now that you're out of college, working as engineers in the real world, what suggestions would you offer to the undergraduate engineering program that would better prepare graduates for the future?

A. One thing I didn't acquire through my undergraduate engineering program was how the entire engineering career process works. Through my internship experience, I only learned what a set of plans looked like. In fact, I am still learning how the management process works and what to expect when climbing up the career ladder. I believe that some type of course near the end of the education process, allowing student engineers to be in a "real world" environment, would be beneficial. This could entail interactive methods and role-playing. For example, divide the class into different companies (government, industry, consulting, sales, research, etc.) and have each group assign different roles to the students. Any kind of interaction with other engineers would be helpful. I have noticed that one of the biggest problems still existing today is communication.