Thank you for your support of the Engineering Emily Interview Series featuring interviews with inspiring women in STEM. The series kicked off with an interview with mechanical engineer Paula last week.

This week, I’m pleased to introduce you to civil engineer Rita Encarnacion-Malixi.
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EE: How and when did you decide to become an engineer?

REM: Both of my parents come from technical backgrounds – my dad is a civil engineer, my mom was a math teacher. They instilled in me a desire to solve the world’s problems.

I’ve known that I wanted to be an engineer since I was in elementary school. My father’s company sponsored a “Bring Your Daughter to Work Day”. I went for the first time when I was 10. It was the first time I really understood what he did, and I thought it was great! In elementary & high school, I gravitated towards math and science, so engineering seemed to be the best fit for me in college.

EE: What was your university experience like as an engineering student? What GPA did you have at graduation?

REM: I entered UC Berkeley in the Fall of 2003 and graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Civil & Environmental Engineering in May 2007. Go Bears!

I don’t actually remember my graduating GPA (around a 3.0). My first two years were filled with the usual GE courses – lots of math, chemistry, physics, engineering, and humanities. They were your classic “weeder” courses. Very rigorous. As an engineering student, I felt like I had more homework than my friends who were in the humanities. I spent a lot of time in libraries and study groups. Upper division civil engineering courses were challenging, but a lot more enjoyable because I was much more interested in the coursework and what it meant to be a civil engineer.  The CEE Department had the most female engineering students among the different disciplines, and I made it a point to sign up for the courses taught by female professors.

Aside from academics, I was very involved in student government, several Filipino-American student organizations, dance groups, and a sorority.

EE: Did you do any internships in engineering during college?

REM: I interned with a Marine Contractor after my 3rd year.

EE: How did you get your first job?

REM: I heard about them through an info-session sponsored by the CEE Department. I was initially interviewed on campus and then had a second interview at one of their project sites. I got a job offer before graduation.

EE: What industry do you work in?

REM: I work for a contractor. Our district does primarily infrastructure projects in Northern California, but we do work throughout North America and Australia.

EE: What has been your career path from graduation up to today?

REM: I have been fortunate to have full-time employment since graduation. I have been with my company for almost 9 years and am a stockholder. I began in the Estimating department and have had the opportunity to work on projects as a structures field engineer, environmental manager, quality control manager, procurement manager, and civil superintendent.

EE: Have you had to move for work? Have you travelled for work, and if so where?

REM: When I joined our company, I had actually been sold on the fact that we were a “commuter” district. I could live and work in the same area for my whole career! Six months later, the country began to fall into the recession, and working away from the SF Bay Area looked like the best way for me to continue in my career. I’ve worked in Seattle (1.5 years), Toronto (6 months), Yosemite/Bass Lake (2 years), Canadian Oil Sands (2 years). I also travel to Omaha often for Corporate training.

EE: What has been your best experience as an engineer?

REM: It is hard to pin-point my best experience as an engineer. In July, our Presidio Parkway project had a major 3-day road closure where we would tie-in our new Parkway (roads, tunnels, and bridges) and open them up to the public. Our team finished the work hours ahead the scheduled Monday morning opening — early enough to make the Sunday night news. It required months of planning and our workers executed the closure work safely. Not one incident. It was a great accomplishment.

EE: What has been your most challenging experience as an engineer?

REM: Managing my overall wellness has been my most challenging experience.  Even in 40 below zero weather, we have to get things done. Keeping positive, motivated, and open takes work and effort. High stress, long hours, and sometimes working 6 or 7 days a week for weeks at a time can take a toll on you mentally, physically, and emotionally. Working smarter, not harder, is something that I need to focus on whenever I hit those lows.

EE: How do you balance career and home life?

REM: The ways that I’ve balanced career and home life have changed throughout the years depending on where I’ve been. When I was single and commuting home daily, I would go to the gym, or meet my friends at the dance studio for class, or meet folks for dinner. When I was on a camp job working 14 days straight then coming home for a week, I really made the most of that one week off. When I got married and would be able to come home to my husband each night, I began to make getting home before dinner a priority. Now as a new mom, my work hours are limited because of her daycare hours. Earlier in my career, I brought work home with me often. I try not to do that now because I want my home time to be family time.

I met my husband at UC Berkeley, and we stayed together through most of the moves. He lived in the Bay Area, so we did the long-distance relationship thing several times. It was difficult but he has always supportive of my career.

Everywhere I’ve lived/worked, I’ve also made it a point to find a church to attend. I even joined the choir. Having that community brought me comfort and helps me make places “feel like home”.

EE: What advice do you have for someone interested in engineering/working moms?

REM: The world will always need good engineers.  Civil engineers make civilization happen. It’s that simple. It is a great profession and I take so much pride in what we do. Pursue it. It is hard work, but – for me – so gratifying.

I have learned so much more “in the field” than I did in school. Schooling helped prepare me with an understanding of engineering fundamentals, but it also helped me develop mental toughness and understand the importance of teamwork and leadership. The engineering world needs more women in it and there are so many people – women and men – ready and willing to support you.

My mom worked through my childhood. She made it happen! She is an amazing person who showed me it can be done.  I’m figuring it out day-by-day. I hope my kids see the work I’ve done and are inspired and empowered to create something good of their own. Right now, that’s my biggest motivation.

EE: Any other information or stories you’d like to share?

REM: I have been back in California for a year and a half now. In that time, I got married, moved into a new home, and had my first child. I always envisioned that I would get my Professional Engineer license after graduation, but I moved so often for work that it was hard to fulfill the requirements necessary to take the exam. I haven’t given up on my that dream yet, and I hope to begin that pursuit soon.

I plan on getting back into half-marathon/marathons after taking about 1.5 years off for a pregnancy and knee injury. You can run {almost} anywhere, and after college, it was a great way to release stress and give myself some quality “me” time.

Thank you Rita for sharing your story with us on the blog today! Rita has worked on a variety of projects with the same company at different locations throughout her career that have enabled her to grow and gain experience as an engineer. She really hit home with me by discussing how work-life balance for her has changed over the years. We always want a good balance between personal and work time, but it is interesting to see how the priorities have changed for her as she progressed into getting married and having children.

Having good role models can help girls picture themselves as engineers when they grow up. Rita was lucky enough to have both her parents as inspiring role models for her engineering career – having a civil engineer for a father and a math teacher working mother helped her believe that she could do it all too. And she is doing it all: full-time engineer, wife and mom to a beautiful baby.

Running is also one of my favorite ways to exercise and it can help clear your mind after a busy day. It’s great you’re getting back into running Rita, and we are impressed by all your achievements. Getting your PE is a great goal for any engineer, and it will be a huge accomplishment when you get it. Good luck Rita!

If you have any questions for Rita or me, please comment below. If you or someone you know would be interested in being interviewed for a feature in the Engineering Emily Interview Series, please comment below or email me at


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