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SWE Member Creating Fund to Send Aspiring Engineers to SWE Events

Ruthann Omer is creating a scholarship fund that will send female engineering students to gatherings of the Society for Women Engineers.

Published On: January 2018

This article by Anne Cloonan was first published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Ruthann Omer

Ruthann Omer has been on job sites since she was a teen, tagging along with her engineer father. She was only 5 years old when she attended her first Whitehall council meeting, brought there by her dad, who was municipal engineer for the borough.

So it was no surprise that she became the first female municipal engineer in Allegheny County.

“It was natural to follow in his footsteps because I was always out on job sites with him,” she said of her father, the late Frederick Omer, founder of The Gateway Engineers Inc.

“It’s all I ever knew,” she said.

On Tuesday, Ms. Omer, 57, of Upper St. Clair, retired from an engineering career at Gateway that spanned more than 40 years and included serving as municipal engineer for nearly a dozen communities.

During that time, she usually rose at 5 a.m. and attended a municipal meeting every weeknight of her career, she said.

A civil engineer, Ms. Omer focused on sewer infrastructure work as one of her specialties. Her retirement gifts from municipalities included an engraved sewer pipe and a silver plunger encased in a glass dome.

“Nobody focuses on infrastructure until something goes wrong,” she noted Tuesday.

At the time of her retirement, she was municipal engineer for Brentwood, Churchill, Emsworth, Green Hills, Jefferson Hills, Mount Oliver, Sewickley Heights, Whitehall and Upper St. Clair, supported by a team of engineers from Gateway. She previously had been engineer for Heidelberg.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said Wednesday that Ms. Omer had a very collaborative way of getting people to work together across municipal and political boundaries. She was able to find common ground and discover solutions to complex problems, he said.

Ms. Omer’s father was municipal engineer for Whitehall when the borough was founded in 1948, Whitehall manager Jim Leventry said. Ms. Omer later filled the position.

“2018 will be the first time since 1948 someone with the last name of Omer was not engineer,” Mr. Leventry said Wednesday.

Ms. Omer began working at Gateway Engineers before she went to the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned a degree in civil engineering.

She started her first engineering job for the borough of Mount Oliver in 1982, a year before she graduated from Pitt.

Rick Hopkinson, Mount Oliver manager, said before he was hired, Ms. Omer served as a quasi borough manager, doing long-term planning and budgeting.

She was his mentor when he volunteered with the Hilltop Economic Development Corp. while in college and when he interned with the borough in 2013. If it weren’t for Ms. Omer’s mentoring, he said, he would not be manager of Mount Oliver.

The borough’s sewer infrastructure is in good shape now, he said, because under Ms. Omer’s guidance, it raised sewer rates, started a sanitary sewer fund and launched various sewer projects in the early 2000s.

Ms. Omer said aspects of her career that she enjoyed included solving problems and helping people.

Now, she is creating a scholarship for female civil engineering students at Pitt. The fund will also pay to send female engineering students to gatherings of the Society for Women Engineers, which she described as a “great organization.”

Her advice for female engineering students includes finding mentors — female or male — whom they admire to help them in their careers and volunteering, which can help them meet people who can assist them with their careers, she said.

In retirement, she plans to continue to serve on the boards of the Allegheny County Conservation District, Local Government Academy, RAD Advisory Board, Streets Run and Saw Mill Run watershed associations, and as president of Hilltop Economic Development Corp., among other positions.

She also hopes to spend more time with her husband, Skip Hudzema, her two stepsons and her grandson. She and her husband may travel in the U.S., Canada and Europe, she said.

Anne Cloonan, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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