20 to Watch: Women in HVAC - Jessica Errett
P.E., BEMP, senior energy analyst, Energy Studio
Name: Jessica Errett
Title: P.E., BEMP, senior energy analyst, Energy Studio
Educational Experience: Bachelor and master’s degrees in architectural engineering, University of Nebraska.
Professional Credentials/Accreditations: P.E. in Nebraska and Building Energy Modeling Professional (BEMP).
Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: ASHRAE Region IX Young Engineers in ASHRAE (YEA) vice chair; ASHRAE Region IX Government Affairs vice chair, 2018-2019; ASHRAE Nebraska chapter board – president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, board member, 2011-2017; ASHRAE Chapter Service Award, 2018; and ASHRAE Leadership U recipient, 2016.
What caused you to/when did you fall in love with engineering?
I fell in love with engineering during my first internship at an architectural engineering firm the summer after my junior year of college. I experienced the creative side of engineering, the team-working nature of building design projects, and the energy surrounding the completion of important project milestones. It was fun to see how the concepts I was learning in school were applied in the real world. I learned so much in those three months and have been hooked on engineering ever since.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the skilled trades?
It's rewarding to know I have the experience and tools to help clients answer tough questions about building energy use. I started my career as an HVAC design engineer and understand a person in this role must be knowledgeable about many topics to address a wide variety of project requirements and client needs. As I've transitioned into energy consulting, I am valued as the professional who design engineers and architects can call on to answer questions that address the nitty-gritty details of building energy use.
Describe the proudest moment in your career.
Serving as the ASHRAE president of the Nebraska Chapter in 2016-2017 was a great honor. After spending many years working my way through the various board positions, I am proud of the opportunity I had to lead our strong chapter of almost 400 members. I was the fourth female chapter president in a six-year span, which I think is impressive. I like to brag about that fact a little bit.
I highly encourage all young engineers to get involved with a professional society like ASHRAE because it provides opportunities to develop leadership and soft skills earlier than on the job. Through ASHRAE, I've been given access to speaking opportunities, leadership development retreats, and networking connections that I otherwise wouldn't have had.
What challenges do women face in this profession? Can you give a personal example?
A woman in this profession often finds herself to be the only woman in a room full of men. I've been overly scrutinized during a first interaction and talked over by older male project team members several times. I've come to terms that I will not likely be the loudest voice in the room, and that's OK. Women don't have to emulate a man's demeanor to be a strong leader. We just need to be ourselves and do good work; people will gravitate to us because we’re professional, knowledgeable, and confident.
Engineers are sometimes perceived to be nerds with zero social skills and their heads buried in a book or computer. Engineering is really about problem-solving and teamwork. The best engineers tend to be those who are willing to collaborate, and women are naturally great collaborators. We generally listen well to others, bring diverse views, and organize information efficiently to make meaningful decisions. If we present engineering as technical problem-solving, it could generate more interest in women and girls who are looking for a great career.
What does your day-to-day job entail?
Day to day, I build and analyze energy models for buildings of all types and complexities, including labs, schools, and office buildings. Based on the results of the energy models, I provide feedback to project teams about their buildings’ current energy performance and organize bundles of energy conservation strategies to help them meet energy efficiency goals. I love the high-paced nature of my work. Clients typically need quick feedback to make cost-effective and energy-conscious design solutions, which means there's rarely a dull moment. In a single week, I could touch three to five different projects, depending on what answers or reports are needed from clients.
What drives/motivates you every day?
Over the years I've learned a lot about my personality. For example, I know that positivity, includer, and harmony are in my top five Gallup StrengthsFinder traits. I am motivated by building relationships with people. Learning to fully develop and apply my strengths is more valuable than focusing on improving my weaknesses. The underlying StrengthsFinder concept states we should spend time completing tasks that naturally come easy to us.
This is why my work as the regional vice chair of Young Engineers in ASHRAE (YEA) is so energizing for me. I work closely with all the YEA chapter chairs in my region and help organize programs that guide our future ASHRAE leaders to discover their strengths and personal brands. I encourage everyone to take the StrengthsFinder assessment or something similar. We think we know ourselves, and it's very validating to see the results on paper.
What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t accomplished yet?
I'd love to help a project team develop energy conservation strategies that result in a net-zero building in a location with a challenging climate.
What’s one thing no one knows about you?
Many people know I am an active musician and songwriter, but some might not know that at one point I did some touring. For the very first tour, my best friend, Tara, and I packed a duffel bag of clothes and our musical instruments into my Saturn Ion and played 12 shows in 16 days on the East Coast, driving 4,000 miles across 15 states. We played in ice cream shops, farmers’ markets, wine bars, basically anywhere we could. We actually lost our backpack of pillows that we had strapped to the top of my car somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike.
List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe exactly how they’ve shaped your success.
My boss and mentor, Amanda Bogner, who founded Energy Studio when she was 30 years old, has given me opportunities to lead and manage projects, even when I wasn't always very confident in my abilities. I appreciate her pushing me on my journey to become a better engineer and project manager. Amanda has developed a company culture that promotes work-life balance and continuously leads with compassion and patience. I appreciate the positive example she sets by splitting her time between work, family, and a position on our city's public power board of directors. It's empowering to see women like her in our community showing that we can build a career, have a family, and volunteer our time to outside passions.
What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field?
Be confident in yourself and your work. Don't let anyone allow you to second guess your wants, opinions, or self-worth. Stay on the path, it'll be worth it.