Whether it’s their desire to protect the environment, explore and understand complex electrical systems or help businesses become more efficient, women engineers all share a love for the industry and willingness to make a positive effect locally and beyond.
And that includes encouraging and inspiring girls and other women to become engineers.
This Saturday, June 23, is International Women in Engineering Day, when women engineers are recognized for work that directly improves people’s lives and has great social influence.
Through critical thinking and problem-solving skills, they help to make buildings run more efficiently, cleanse water and air, and build structures such as roads and bridges that people use every day. Their work benefits local communities and also helps those in other parts of the world.
“Engineering is a really good field,” said Lizzie Helsel, an environmental engineer in Rettew Associates’ Allentown office. “It’s about thinking critically and problem solving. … I really value the recognition and trust they put on me here.”
Women have made advancements in the field and countless accomplishments over the years.
Though perceptions have changed, there is still a long way to go. Recent local and national efforts to create programs and organizations that promote engineering as a career field for young women and children are a step in the right direction, so the potential for more advancements should follow.
“We are making tremendous strides in outreach in K-12,” said Karen Panetta, a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts. “The [number of] women that are going into the bachelor programs is very strong.”
When Panetta began forging her career path in engineering as a professor at Tufts in the 1990s, she faced many outdated attitudes.
“Even the male students challenged me at first, but then they saw I built the things I was talking about,” she said.
Today, she is a professor of electrical and computer engineering and the dean of graduate education at Tufts University.
The Greater Lehigh Valley has many companies filled with women engineers working on all sorts of projects who demonstrate a strong interest in their work and how it helps their businesses and communities.
They are improving people’s lives, one project at a time, and here are three of their stories:
Lizzie Helsel enjoys working on projects that improve people’s quality of life through renewable energy.
An environmental engineer in Rettew Associates’ Allentown office, Helsel said her favorite part of the job is the variety of the work and ability to go into the field, meet with clients and visit different sites.
“It’s a very vital field,” said Helsel, whose mother was a nuclear engineer.
Providing for clean water and the removal of wastewater are key parts of what Helsel does on a daily basis.
Before joining Rettew about 2 ½ years ago, Helsel worked at a small engineering consulting firm in New Hampshire.
Now she does design and finds she enjoys engineering in general.
“It’s a fairly mid-sized company, but I feel I have the opportunity to play a big role here,” she said.
Helsel said she likes the idea of working with renewable energy and reusing and managing resources as effectively as possible.
One of her biggest projects was for the University Area Joint Authority in State College, where she is helping to upgrade and expand its advanced water treatment facility, doubling the capacity so it can produce 2 million gallons of high quality, beneficial reuse water per day.
State College area businesses that use the water include golf courses and car washes, and what’s left over goes to wetlands.
Michelle Zboray, a materials control manager for the manufacturing facility at Victaulic in Forks Township, started her career as an entry-level engineer at the company.
In her seventh year with Victaulic, she has a team of four buyer/planners who are on the floor, directing the workforce.
As a student at Lehigh University, she enrolled in the business/engineering program, which she said helped her identify a career path.
“That was my first exposure to lean manufacturing,” Zboray said. “I like the challenges of it, basically problem solving.
“When you work in a manufacturing facility, you’re not sitting behind a desk. You are going to the floor, getting the product, helping build it and also seeing results. On our manufacturing floor, we can make a change today and, immediately, we can see results.”
SAVING TIME, MONEY
Shortly after joining Victaulic, she became a rotational engineer, where she focused on the lean process, helping the company set up procedures that save time and money.
“During that process, we saved thousands of hours per year,” Zboray said. “In my current role, I’m more focused on buying and planning.
“Now, we are focused on automating the data collection.”
One aspect of engineering that Zboray enjoys is the ability to see the immediacy of the results.
“With the buying and planning, there are a lot of metrics that tell me and my team and our whole facility how we are doing,” Zboray said.
For young women interested in pursuing engineering and following in her footsteps, Zboray recommended going after internships, calling it the best way to go.
“Follow what you are interested in,” she said. “If something doesn’t excite you, you are probably in the wrong field.”
Barry Isett & Associates
Engineering runs in Lucy Paretti’s family. Her father is a nuclear engineer and her brother a civil engineer, while she is an engineer and department manager of mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection for Barry Isett & Associates of Upper Macungie Township.
Going through school, she had always been good in math and science, so when she got to college, she felt drawn to architectural engineering as a major.
When she started working at Barry Isett, the firm was doing a lot of work for the Allentown School District. Since then, she has worked on numerous projects in public schools, higher education and, one of the most notable, Ben Franklin TechVentures in Bethlehem. For that project, she was responsible for the electrical engineering design for a 20,000-square-foot building.
She finds electrical engineering design interesting because the systems are interactive and complex.
“It requires a lot of coordination with a lot of different people,” Paretti said. “You get to talk to a lot of different users and see how they are actually going to use the systems that you are going to design.”
Designing these systems is not only technically demanding, it also can be challenging since clients do not always understand what they are spending money on, she said.
Often, clients do not always use all parts of the electrical system and don’t see it, so communicating the importance of it can be a challenge, she added.
Through her work, Paretti also learned how designs for these electrical systems are different for commercial, institutional and industrial users and require different kinds of codes.
Her other electrical engineering projects in the Greater Lehigh Valley include Funk Brewing Co. in Emmaus, Sands Casino Hotel in Bethlehem and upgrades for the Summit Lodge and expanded Slope Side Pub & Grill at Blue Mountain Ski Area in Lower Towamensing Township.
“They are all fun to work on, and the variety is what is the best accomplishment,” she said. “Being able to be flexible and diverse in what you know and understand, so it keeps you engaged in the job.”