Today I’m proud to introduce you to Katherine, a civil engineer and blogger. She is one of the many new young faces of woman in engineering and the girl behind the blog Woman Engineer. She sent me an email about my blog at the beginning of this year, and we’ve continued to stay in touch ever since. I’ve found her to be open, curious, ambitious and creative.
I asked Katherine to do an interview for my blog because I wanted her early career perspective of what it’s like to be a woman in engineering. In her interview, Katherine gives us a very honest and open view of her career thus far. I hope you enjoy getting to know Katherine!
Engineering Emily (EE): How and when did you decide to become an engineer?
Katherine Nguyen (KN): I grew up in a third world country and we were constantly experiencing Mother Nature’s biggest forces. One of Her biggest forces were typhoons so I’ve seen people died and that was a really big impact to my life. When I came to America at age 9, I knew that I want to help those that suffer from these forces and Civil Engineering was the most efficient way I knew to prevent these situations.
EE: What was your college major?
KN: Civil Engineering
EE: What was your university experience like as an engineering student?
KN: There were good and there were bad experiences. I was involved in a lot of school activities around campus. I joined social groups and even rushed in a sorority. The best was meeting new friends and the worst was the school work. I remembered my very first Dynamics exam very clearly. I had a huge mark of 49% on my exam and I just felt so worthless. But looking back now, it was just another exam and lesson I learned from that class was more important.
EE: Did you do any engineering internships during college?
KN: Yes! I had an internship since the summer of my freshman year of college. I had a lot of seniors in my ASCE Club (American Society of Civil Engineer) push me to be my better self. Having a group of more experienced people and listening to their advice (with a grain of salt) is really helpful!
EE: How did you find/get hired for your first engineering job?
KN: My first engineering job was an internship from an ad that the school sent out through email. It was a public agency water resources engineer job. When I graduated from college I just signed on to become full time with the company I had been interning with. But I had to be very honest with my supervisor that I wanted to continue working with the company.
EE: What industry do you currently work in?
KN: I am in the river and coastal engineering industry.
EE: Have you travelled for work, and if so how often and to where?
KN: I had the opportunity to go about 500 miles from home to Napa Valley, CA to aid in the Santa Clara County Fire in 2017. But it’s not often.
EE: Have you had to move for work?
KN: I have never had to move for work.
EE: What has been your best experience working as an engineer?
KN: I love seeing my work going into production. The biggest experience was seeing the design I helped produce being built in front of my eyes.
EE: What has been your most challenging experience working as an engineer?
KN: The most challenging is being able to step out of my comfort zone to prove myself. Being a woman, I noticed there is a much lower standard given to women. When I discovered this reality, I had to prove that I’m no less than my male peers. To do so, I communicated with my supervisor clearly what my passion entails. I am very fortunate that my supervisor is very good at listening and he encourages my passion. However, if the supervisor in charge could not care of my passion, I would start searching for a new job to find a company that supports my passion. Another cool thing about being a woman is being able to find jobs, every company suffers with lack of diversity anyway.
EE: How do you balance career and home life?
KN: I am still single so this is not a big deal for me. But I still live very close to my parents so I try to eat dinner with my family every night and doing small house work to keep communications with my parents.
EE: What advice do you have for girls interested becoming an engineer?
KN: Do not let anyone stop you! That includes yourself. The thing about engineering in America is that, anyone with a passion can do it. Don’t let your math and science grades stop you. Don’t let not getting into the top tier school let you stop your engineering passion. Find your passion and it will drive itself!
EE: Would you still become an engineer if you could do it all over again?
KN: Yes!! I would still do civil engineering again.
EE: Do you feel women are treated equally to men in engineering?
KN: In engineering, women are treated differently. I feel like I have it easier than the men in a sense that I would never be screamed at. In the field I don’t have to life heavy equipment, when I’m around my coworkers would walk slower for me. However, it comes with a terrible negative. I have very little expectations from my superior. I must constantly try to prove myself to get the job I want to work on. It is a problem that I must deal with on the daily.
EE: Any other information or stories you’d like to share?
KN: One of the biggest things I always like to share to girls is: do not let yourself be the barrier between you and your passion. When I was in high school, I did not get A’s, I failed my Algebra-Trig class in high. At that point, I thought that I could never become an engineer, but I got over it and I didn’t let it stop me from pursuing my passion. I ended up going to state school and now I get to do exactly what I have always wanted to do!
Another big point that I would like to share is, find a mentor(s). Someone that encourages your passion but don’t force feed you with information! I found my mentors through work and networking organizations.
And one last point: NETWORKING. This one helps you get out of your comfort zone and your boss will be impressed when his client is your best buddy.
Thanks Katherine for sharing your experiences with us! I’m blown away by her drive. She wanted to become an engineer to help prevent others from experiencing loss during natural disasters, and now she is doing work she can be proud of and making a good life for herself here in America.
It is disappointing that in almost all the interviews I’ve posted the women still say they are experiencing inequality in the engineering workplace. We’ve all seen it in some form (from the men cleaning up their language when we’re around, to having to work twice as hard to prove our worth) whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not. When I interviewed Katherine, I was hoping things have started to change and in her early career she had been treated as an equal.
I continue to hope that as more women enter engineering and a woman’s presence in the field and office becomes the norm, things will change. I hope that eventually there will be no preconceived bias about the woman’s ability and field workers and managers will see us as an engineer and not a man or woman.
Be sure to head over to Katherine’s engineering and lifestyle blog, Woman Engineer to get to know her better. If you enjoyed reading Katherine’s interview, please let us know if the comments below! Finally, if you would like to be featured in a future interview for the Women in Engineering Interview Series on the blog, please contact me!