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Don’t surgarcoat engineering as a career choice for young women

Don’t surgarcoat engineering as a career choice for young women

This is the first post in a series featuring our employees’ perspectives surrounding Women in Engineering. MSA asked three of our engineers to reflect on why they chose engineering as a career path and how they think the profession can attract more women.

The series was prompted by an op-ed published in the New York Times by Lina Nilsson, a female professor at the University of California – Berkeley. Nilsson, who has a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, argued that women will be attracted to engineering if they believe the work benefits society and if the goals of engineering research and curriculums be more relevant to societal needs.
The female engineers in this series believe differently from Nilsson and wanted to share their perspective. Shannon Lybarger, the first MSA team member featured in this series, provides electrical design services in our Champaign, IL office. She works on a variety of projects, oftentimes developing the site lighting design for high-rise buildings, including 519 E. Green Street, a multi-use building located in downtown Champaign. Shannon shares her perspective on her career below.
I knew I wanted to be an engineer from the time I was a young girl helping my dad provide electricity to a 100-year-old barn that housed my 4-H cattle. At his side, I learned about power, lighting and circuitry and discovered I liked solving practical problems. As a high school student, I told my guidance counselor that I wanted to become an engineer. Her response was “girls don’t do that,” but the counselor’s proclamation didn’t stop me from pursuing my career goals.
One week after high school graduation, I joined a firm as a field technician/engineering intern. I later returned to the same company in 2005, but this time with a four-year degree and in the electrical engineering department. I joined MSA Professional Services in 2010.
On a day-to-day basis, I serve as project designer and prepare working drawings, handle construction administration, and coordinate efforts with clients, contractors, and other consultants. My experience includes multi-story student housing, private schools, retail/commercial buildings, senior housing, site/roadway layouts, and several LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified projects.
That’s not to say I don’t care about helping society. Over the past few years, I was the LEED administrator and only electrical designer for the 14-story high-rise at 519 E Green, recently described as the busiest intersection in Urbana –Champaign. This building features many sustainable elements including a vegetative roof system and use of recycled materials.
In addition, I’m a co-leader of a 4-H club with more than 50 children ranging in ages from five to 18 years. I encourage my members to pursue their interests because you never know where they will lead. Our emphasis is on solving problems and discovery. The solutions may very well address societal needs, but that’s not our emphasis. 

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