Orange County Branch Newsletter

June 2012

Corporate Spotlight - Stantec

When Krys Saldivar entered a boardroom early in her career, she often found herself the only woman in a room of 20 or so practitioners to discuss transportation planning.  Fewer women were entering the field of engineering and design 20-30 years ago which, at the time, made choosing careers in the sector a feat for only the daring.

Saldivar, now a transportation principal in the Irvine office of Stantec, represents a growing presence of local female leaders in the A/E industry, many of whom have seen career paths evolve along with the industry during the past three decades.  Here is a glimpse at three of those different stories and the lessons learned from each.

Going Her Own Way

Saldivar was the second-youngest of nine siblings in a family of which nearly all would choose the Air Force as their career path. Like in her future career, Saldivar went against the grain, studying urban planning at UC Irvine because she was fascinated with the Social Ecology of the discipline. Paying her way through college with scholarships and part-time jobs, she took an administrative position with a prominent local transportation design firm known for expertise in traffic studies. There, she showed ambition and work ethic which provided her with the opportunity to contribute to project work for clients. More than 25 years later, she is a principal and leader in that discipline. What were the challenges? Saldivar said she often had to work harder and learn faster to excel as a female practitioner. This was a competitive environment, paired with her dedication as an active PTA mom of two girls. Her advice to future professionals, “Be open minded and keep your cool when it comes to a situation or issue. Your opinion will not be the only one so be patient and hear what others have to say. You may just learn something that you haven’t heard or thought of before.”

Sibling Similarities

Even in her engineering courses at Cal State Long Beach in the1980s, Sherry Weinmeier noticed early on she was one of few females pursuing engineering as a career. Now an urban land engineering principal in Stantec’s Irvine office, Weinmeier felt right at home in the seemingly unbalanced environment of her classes. Growing up with three brothers as the only female sibling, she knew how to “hang with the boys” --  both when playing in the backyard and in discussing engineering principles, the trade chosen by father and two of her siblings. Weinmeier often feels that ultimately, career success in engineering is related to personal ambition, regardless of gender. “Remember that attitude with integrity is everything -- you will accomplish what you believe you can accomplish,” she says.  “Young engineers – males and females alike – may be given simple tasks, but each is an opportunity to problem solve, be responsible, and analyze everything in front of you (and be a better professional for it).”

Through The Industry Ranks

For Sherry Nour building a career and professional reputation in Orange County meant dedicating a portion of her energy to industry service. A senior program director in Stantec’s Irvine transportation practice, Nour has held several leadership positions with the ASCE, including a two-year post as the organization’s program chair during (the ASCE gave her the distinction of Outstanding Engineer of Year in 2009). Nour has also held roles with the Orange County Chapter of WTS, an organization which recognized her efforts as treasurer by naming her Member of the Year in 2011. A dual focus on industry relations and client-focused counsel has allowed Nour to become one of the most respected names in highway traffic analysis and design during her 27-year career. To future engineers, Nour ‘s key piece of advice: “Remember who you are. Believe and trust your core values in life/work and never compromise them. It’s ok to be different, as long as you accept and respect others’ differences too. No one expects a young engineer to know everything, but they all rightfully expect to have a trusting, honest individual with integrity to depend on.”

Sound Advice

With their collective professional experiences – each spanning three decades – Nour, Weinmeier and Saldivar have learned many lessons about career success. Some have been gleaned from personal experience, others from mentors.  The following is a collective list of additional insights they developed that are applicable for both practitioners new in their career or supervisors trying to provide sound advice to young professionals with ambition.

  • Build your hard and soft skills – Women interested in engineering should not only work on their technical foundation, but also develop their soft skills. The importance of being a good written and verbal communicator is invaluable in this profession.
  • Know your goals, gain respect – Focus on your own career goals, then exceed them. There was a time when fewer women entered the engineering field – it was often a challenge to be accepted as an equal, but accomplishments speak for themselves.
  • Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer – Volunteering your time will put you in the driver’s seat of your engineering career.  Whether with industry or community organizations, volunteering will give you early credibility as a hard-working, passionate practitioner while providing relationships and learning experiences that are priceless.
  • Stand by and love your work – Never compromise the quality of your work due to lack of time or budget, spend your own time to make it right. You have to be 100 percent satisfied with your work. Remember, when (not if) you love your work, it’s not work anymore.
  • Work/life balance is possible, believe it – Having a successful career as an engineer is a matter of balance. Significant others, family and friends are what give your life passion and passion with perseverance makes anything possible. Whatever your personal interests and passions are, there is a field of engineering where you can apply ALL of your skills!
  • Know your teachers, be a consummate student – Determine who the key mentors, coaches, teachers, leaders and peers are in your professional life – these people will arm you with insight to deal with challenges ahead and those challenges will make you stronger.  Tackle any tough situation head-on and don’t be afraid to ask for help. A good leader knows where to find it.
  • Act the part, be the part – To make a good impression and be taken seriously, look people in the eye when you speak to them, speak clearly and confidently and be direct.  There is always a human aspect to any kind of engineering project – communicate that element and stay mindful that the technical component of a project is only one small component.

Passing it on

Each of these practitioners works to impart these insights on to future generations of engineering industry professionals. Nour helps support the WTS in its organizational mission to provide outreach and scholarships to students, while Saldivar and Weinmeier actively serve as mentors to groups of students at UC Irvine.  Through their efforts –and practitioners like them in Stantec and throughout the industry – the hope is to see the industry workforce increasingly diverse and growing.