I am wrapping up a 25+ year career as an environmental engineer, and I was inaugurated recently as president of the Society of Women Engineers, one of the largest organizations supporting women in engineering. This achievement comes a long way from my small apartment in Lansing, MI, where I found myself in my 20s, divorced and raising an amazing daughter. Education played a big part in where I am today.

Whatever they can do, I can do too

I observed what the men in my company were doing when I was working as a secretary back then. They were engineers making money and a huge difference in the world. “Hey, I can do that,” I thought, so I enrolled in school.

I earned as many credits as possible at Lansing Community College before I transferred to Michigan State University. For my last two years, I was working 30 hours a week and getting my engineering degree at Michigan State. I had no real role models and not living on campus.  None of my classmates were supporting a child like I was.  

From MBAs to joining important groups

After receiving a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering with honors, I attended the University of Washington to continue my education. I accomplished a Master of Business Administration there. Those two universities provided an education I needed to get the job I wanted. Getting involved in non-profit organizations, like the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), opened the doors to a variety of non-traditional continuing education opportunities.

At the beginning of my career, joining an organization like SWE meant joining a network of like-minded women studying engineering just like I was. As I progressed in my career, I found that I needed an outlet to practice leadership skills that translated into the workforce. I was able to do that at SWE – trying out skills like public speaking and management in a non-threatening environment.

Careers end, but learning never stops

Continuing education isn’t something that happens in the classroom (that is important too, however). Those opportunities happen while you are connecting with people, are getting involved and exercising the skills you do have strengths in and the ones you don’t. I truly believe that we are always learning.

As I soon finish this fulfilling engineering career, one I am very proud of, I will go on to continue learning. I will stay involved in community programs and organizations and continue to practice those skills that I worked so hard to build, from my days spent at Lansing Community College, Michigan State and the University of Washington, to my career as an environmental engineer.