WOMEN IN ENGINEERING MELINDA SILVA, PE
"There are so many different opportunities. Engineering is everywhere from music and television to energy, clothing manufacturing, automobiles, planes, and trains. There is nothing that engineering has not impacted or touched. "
How or why did you choose engineering as a career path or area of study?
I was interested in everything and didn’t have any idea what I wanted to be, so I didn’t go directly into engineering. I took some art classes in college and kind of fell into my first degree because I enjoyed the field of study. After teaching for a few years, which I enjoyed, I found myself wanting something more. I decided to take some drafting classes at night while still teaching during the day and I began thinking about architecture, which followed my interest in art and sculpture. I went to visit the architecture advisors at my former alma mater to talk about a career change, and they suggested pursuing architectural engineering, which provides more job options. So, I returned to school and basically started over in engineering and ended up graduating with a Civil Engineering degree because I found the coursework interesting and challenging, and the possibilities seemed unlimited.
What inspires you about engineering?
I love to learn new things and see things built and I enjoy the service to the public that we provide and the improvements in society we make possible. Problem-solving requires creative thinking and working on large projects involves working with teams of people in a collaborative manner. People skills are an important part of technical skills. It’s a great mix.
What challenges do women face in the Engineering profession or academia?
I see less of an issue today than in times past and I think young people coming out of college now have grown up with working parent households. There are still not as many women as men in the technical fields, but it is changing. There needs to be more support for work-life balance and I think the recent pandemic has further transformed the work environment. Remote working has eliminated long commutes and given time back to people for family or other interests. I think women need to support each other since there are generally fewer of us in the field. There are still those that want to protect women, or not ask us to handle the challenging or difficult issues, but we can take care of ourselves. We just want a seat at the table, and we can prove our worth. Most people are happy to include us now.
What would you say to girls in school or college who may be considering Engineering as a career choice or study option?
I’d encourage anyone to go into the STEM fields, especially engineering. Logical thinking and technical problem solving can translate into various fields and open doors you may not have known even existed. There are so many different opportunities. Engineering is everywhere from music and television to energy, clothing manufacturing, automobiles, planes, and trains. There is nothing that engineering has not impacted or touched.
What are your hopes for the future of Engineering?
Engineers need to bring more recognition to the everyday things they work on that profoundly affect humankind every day: Clean water, sanitation, communications, crop production. Water, food, and shelter are necessities. Of course, followed by a cell phone. Ask any teenager how essential a phone is to their lives. Engineering is exciting, challenging, and cutting edge. I hope to see more people get involved.