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Why we need mentoring and diversity in engineering

Over my 30+ year career as an electrical engineer in power systems, I've worked with thousands of people. Meter readers, engineers, accountants, lawyers, machinists, lineworkers, technicians, and everyone in between.

I started out in 1983 as a Drexel Co-op student working at a fossil fuel generating plant outside Philadelphia. Now I find myself behind a desk in Washington D.C. When chatting with fellow employees, I hear one comment more than any other when discussing different career trajectories, Wow — I wish someone had told me to become an engineer. I never knew it was a good option." Many of these folks are much smarter than I am, but they chose their career paths because of the environments to which they were exposed.

How did I end up in engineering? My father worked at Westinghouse and told me regularly that the engineers did this, or the engineers did that. By the time I hit high school, it wasn't a question of "Do I become an engineer?" Instead, the question was: "What type of engineering, and at which university?"

This leads me to my three children.

My oldest son Reid has an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland, and will receive his masters in May of this year (also from UMD). My middle child, Erik, got his electrical engineering degree from the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.

Am I surprised? Not really. They were brought up with a constant voice in their ear; someone to discuss their future with, and to help guide them when they asked: "What career can I have or which university should I go to when I'm good at math and science?"

While my two boys may both have electrical engineering degrees, each found their own way to customize their experience. Reid is working in the field of optics, and has been with the Naval Research Lab these past four years. Erik followed closer to my path, and is working for the local utility (Pepco) in Washington D.C. As we engineers love finding trends, my analysis indicates that "Nuts don't fall far from the tree."

What about my third child? Jodie is in her junior year at Temple University, studying civil engineering. Her draw to engineering might have something to do with the reasons above, but like countless other times when I discuss my children, the biggest 'wow' comes when I mention her field choice.

As a woman, Jodie is a minority in the field of engineering, and that won't change unless we encourage a diverse set of students, including women and other minorities, to join the STEM community.

Global Engineering Day is not just for the standard college-bred engineers. It is intended is to celebrate all scientists.The engineering field is wide open in today's world, and engineering folks come in all types of disciplines, ranging from the standard electrical engineers working in power systems to those studying climate change, innovating in communications, and working to advance environmental stewardship.

Many of us became engineers thanks to mentoring and encouragement from parents and teachers. On Global Engineering Day, we should ask ourselves what are we doing to introduce younger generations to the vast potential of careers in STEM. At the American Public Power Association, we nurture students by supporting internships and scholarships through our DEED R&D program. Tell us what you're doing at your utility — leave a comment below or email us at [email protected]"