WOMEN IN ENGINEERING
RUTH WOLINSKY, PE
"I was inspired by Civil Engineering as a field – engineering “for the people”, engineering as a public service. Ensuring the public’s health and safety is a sacred position, one that needs to be served with constant vigilance and honor."
How or why did you choose engineering as a career path or area of study?
When I was a Junior in high school, the movie Apollo 13 came out. In the movie, the carbon dioxide levels are increasing in the damaged shuttle. The crew and support team had to invent a way for the command module’s square filters to work in round receptacles in order to fix the problem and allow the crew to return to Earth. That scene made me realize I wanted to make things happen under real-world constraints. A challenge like what they faced on Apollo 13 was intriguing.
What inspires you about engineering?
I was inspired by Civil Engineering as a field – engineering “for the people”, engineering as a public service. Ensuring the public’s health and safety is a sacred position, one that needs to be served with constant vigilance and honor. I always remind myself of this when I feel overwhelmed.
What challenges do women face in the Engineering profession or academia?
Women seem to now be well represented in the engineering professions, but many women feel torn about time at work taking away from time with family. In many cases, women will face choices about having children and how long to stay home with them. Rapid or even steady career advancement often requires long hours at the office. I believe women on the whole face harder decisions about family than men.
In my case, I took 5 years off to stay home with my daughter and feared I wouldn’t be able to return to the field. Luckily, I got a job just as my daughter started kindergarten.
What would you say to girls in school or college who may be considering Engineering as a career choice or study option?
Engineering school exposes students to a dizzying array of subject areas, any one of which can turn out to be a specialization in one’s career. In school, if you’re a perfectionist like me, you might feel panicked about not mastering all the subject areas, but it takes decades to be an expert in any area.
What are your hopes for the future of Engineering?
I do hope for more advancement in technology in Civil Engineering. Out of all the engineering disciplines, Civil is the slowest to change. Many technologies like integrated GIS, automated meter systems, and 3D and drone imagery are starting to be common in the field, but the coordination of all this is not yet optimized. Some technologies that can accelerate the field of Civil Engineering are still in beta-testing – some things engineers are now testing will fail. I hope that the kinks will get worked out and the Civil Engineering trade will be “upgraded” overall.