SWE member Kelly Fearon is a Civil Engineer: Find out how she got there, the type of projects she’s working on, and how you can #BeThatEngineer!
“I have always loved puzzles and solving problems. To me, engineering is an extension of that; it is an opportunity to work in a field focused on solving problems. I wanted a career where I could work with people and also for people. Even if it’s small ways, like improving roads so they are safer or working on neighborhood development plans, I wanted to make a difference in everyday life.
My family has a lot of engineers, so that is what first opened up the field of engineering for me. I heard about the field work and projects they were involved in, and it inspired me to want to learn more about STEM. I attended the University of Delaware for undergraduate school in Civil Engineering, and went on to the University of Washington for graduate school.
After finishing graduate school in Seattle, I was looking to move closer to home (at least to be in the same time zone as my family in Maryland). I ended up applying to a job in Texas. As it turned out my company had a job in Tampa available in transportation planning and traffic operations, which was my primary interest.
We work on traffic planning for highways, hospitals, ballparks, parking structures, and many other locations that are part of our everyday lives. I’m very glad I took that opportunity and took the risk of moving across the country. I’m really passionate about what I do and it has been a great experience living and working in Tampa.
I don’t have a typical day. It primarily depends on the projects that I am working on. I love that my job allows me to be creative and that it is always interesting. I am able to work on a variety of projects, from designing traffic signals to writing area-wide transportation reports. I have worked for national developers and local municipalities, and no two projects are the same. I get to work on projects at all stages, and I appreciate the variety and the challenges.
There have been some occasions where I’ve encountered challenges as a woman in engineering. At meetings or in the field my gender is immediately commented on, and people often sound surprised when I say I am a Civil Engineer. In my experience, having the senior leaders in my office treat me with respect makes a huge difference. When the senior leaders show they trust me and my judgment at meetings and on site, I have found that sets the tone for others to do so as well.
My advice would be to stay open and take the opportunities that you receive. I’ve often heard that people choose engineering as a career because they like math and science. But engineering is so much more than math and science. It requires creativity and critical thinking and helping people. Even if you don’t love calculus, there is so much more to engineering and there are so many different facets within it. If you can, ask those in the field about what they do.
And don’t forget to pay it forward, to offer support and mentorship when you can to others. My transportation professor in college is the person who suggested I go to graduate school because she thought I would enjoy it. She really changed my life by opening up that door for me. When I look back, it was a defining movement that gave me the courage to pursue my dream and inspired me to go into transportation engineering.”
SWENext is a way to become part of the Society of Women Engineers as a student through the age of 18. Become part of SWE and #BeThatEngineer! Joining is free.
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