“…there are women in your desired field who want to help you and see you succeed. Find those women, learn from those women, and know you can find strong mentors to help you get to where you want to go.”

To celebrate Girl Day (February 25, 2021), a worldwide campaign to engage girls in engineering, we’re honoring one of our engineers, Rachel Coyle. Rachel was first introduced to Southland as the 2019 ASHRAE David C.J. Peters Scholarship Winner.  The scholarship has been awarded to some of the industry’s most promising engineering students and today, Rachel is a Design Engineer for Southland.

How were you introduced to engineering?

[RC] My high school guidance counselor introduced me to engineering during my junior year. I enjoyed math and science but wanted a career that was more hands on, so she suggested engineering. When shadowing a relative who graduated from Penn State with an architectural engineering degree who took me to job sites, design firms, and allowed me to sit in on project meetings, it was then I knew.

When did you know you wanted to go into engineering?

[RC] I knew I wanted to study architectural engineering at Penn State, but before I started school, I had the intention to pursue the construction option. When I arrived at Penn State, found mentors through professors, alumni, and upper level students I was introduced to the mechanical option. I enjoyed the technical aspects of mechanical but also liked the hands-on aspect of construction, so choosing between the two was a difficult decision. Ultimately, my mechanical vs construction decision worked out well because my career at Southland allows me to combine both into my day-to-day job.

What inspires you about engineering?

[RC] I love that I have the opportunity to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Working with a team to design buildings with adequate indoor environmental quality is essential to the health, happiness, and productivity of occupants. As an engineer, I have the chance to develop technology that enhances people’s lives and improves society as a whole. Additionally, being an engineer requires continually learning from and adapting to new challenges which makes every day interesting.

What has surprised you the most about the industry, now being in a full-time role?

[RC] Through internships and discussions with peers, alumni, and professors, I had a good understanding of what the construction industry would be like. However, one surprise that I could not have predicted was starting my career during a global pandemic. I was initially nervous about how this would impact my career, but I’m grateful that my co-workers at Southland have helped to make my transition easier. Since starting in July 2020, our office has been capped at 20 percent capacity, making me one of the few people in the office. Even though some of my co-workers are working remotely, I know they’re always willing to help me grow as a young engineer.

“My hope for the future of engineering is that we can come together across industries to develop strategies and technologies that enable us to reach net zero carbon emissions across the globe so we can leave a healthy planet for future generations.”

Is there a specific message you would like to share with girls who are interested in engineering/STEM?

[RC] A career in engineering or another STEM field can be incredibly rewarding. You have the chance to have a positive impact on the lives of others. Considering a career in a STEM field can be intimidating because of the discrepancy in the gender ratio. However, the number of women in these fields is growing, and there are women in your desired field who want to help you and see you succeed. Find those women, learn from those women, and know you can find strong mentors to help you get to where you want to go.

What are your hopes for the future of engineering?

[RC] In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are facing another global crisis which is climate change. Approximately 39 percent of the world’s carbon emissions come from the built environment which means as building engineers, we have a substantial responsibility to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions during the construction and lifecycle of a building. My hope for the future of engineering is that we can come together across industries to develop strategies and technologies that enable us to reach net zero carbon emissions across the globe so we can leave a healthy planet for future generations. This is something I am passionate about, so I hope to see and make big changes in the coming years.

Is there any advice you could tell your younger self now being in the industry?

[RC] I cannot emphasize enough the benefits of real-world experience through internships or co-ops while still in college. I received a great education from my professors in college, but it was through internships where I learned how the concepts and theories come together to form functioning buildings. Internships allowed me to hit the ground running and gave me an understanding of what my job would entail. Lean into internships and ask your supervisors all your questions to really make the most of your experience.

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