20 to Watch: Women in HVAC - Alyse Falconer
P.E., LEED BD+C AP, associate principal, Point Energy Innovations
Name: Alyse Falconer
Title: P.E., LEED BD+C AP, associate principal, Point Energy Innovations
Educational Experience: Bachelor’s degree, architectural engineering, Penn State University; BAE five-year degree, continuing educational courses at UC Berkeley Extension.
Professional Credentials/Accreditations: P.E. in the state of California and LEED AP BD+C.
Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: ASHRAE New Faces of Engineering Award Recipient 2017; Golden Gate ASHRAE President Elect; and ASHRAE Region X Young Engineers in ASHRAE (YEA) regional vice chair.
What caused you to/when did you fall in love with engineering?
I was always good at math and science. My mom pushed me to excel in these subjects, which were challenging but also very rewarding. I also loved the arts and architecture. I paired my two passions together and went to school for architectural engineering. My mom helped me to find this path, as her background as an artist and a pipe fitter heavily influenced me.
My high school calculus and physics teacher, Mrs. Taylor, made science and math fun, interesting, and easy to understand. She had faith in me when I nervously asked her if women could be engineers. She thought I would be an excellent engineer and asked me to come back after I graduated to speak to her high school students about engineering.
My dad, a hardworking, blue collar steel worker went to school for engineering but didn’t finish school. He was trying to pay for school and college at the same time and found it too difficult. I asked him if he felt I could be an engineer. He told me, “No. It’s too tough, you can’t do it.” I decided I would prove him wrong and grind through the five years required for architectural engineering. Looking back, he was there for every phone call, every question, and every late night tear session. I realized over the course of my education that he was my biggest cheerleader, even if he was heartbroken that he never finished what he started. He was my main motivation every day while I was at Penn State.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the skilled trades?
I love working within a team and figuring out problems with others. I love designing a system for a building, calculating my original assumptions, documenting my work, and seeing the project come to completion.
As an engineer, having insight from industry partners, whether it’s the architect, the owners, the HVAC contractor, or the superintendent in the field, always makes for a better project. One of my favorite benefits of my job is watching those valuable work relationships sometimes become true-life friendships. The more collaboration with others, the better the outcome. It's an incredible feeling when you see a building come to life with a team you’ve worked with for several years.
Describe the proudest moment in your career.
I have a few moments in my career that I'm very proud of. I have two projects that I put my heart and soul into: One was a math and science building for a local community college. I was given this project at the beginning of my career, which I researched different system types and figured the design out mostly on my own. The project has achieved LEED Platinum status. The other building was a cancer center medical office building. I worked on this project when my aunt had cancer. It helped me during this difficult time within our family.
More recently, I interviewed for an adaptive reuse project in the dogpatch of San Francisco. A developer was converting an old ship building warehouse to a mixed-use building, complete with a market hall and artist studios. We designed the system to be 100% all-electric using heat pumps, radiant flooring, and natural ventilation.
Finally, the moment I am incredibly proud of was when I was nominated as ASHRAE’s New Faces of Engineering Award. The award was announced to our 55,000 members and written-up in local newspapers and online. I was honored to have received this award.
What challenges do women face in this profession? Can you give a personal example?
Sometimes, I think women and girls are our own worst enemies. We are so afraid to stand up and ask for what we want, have faith in ourselves, and just take the opportunities as they come. I’m not sure if this is an outcome of society conditioning girls to be quieter and not as bold or aggressive as boys. I do think the lack of introduction to STEM at a young age is slowly changing for girls with toys like GoldieBlox.
When I first started my career, I noticed my young male colleagues would always ask for promotions, raises, or certain projects. I just thought my managers would notice my good work, so I stayed quiet with my head down. What I’ve come to realize is that you need to be your own advocate and champion. It’s not bragging; it’s voicing your accomplishments so others see your good work.
What does your day-to-day job entail?
My day can vary every day. I can be inside my office or outside on a construction site for a building. I often head to architects’ and real estate developers’ offices for meetings in which we work on building designs and coordination of systems. At my office, I complete calculations, select equipment based on my calculations, write reports, and create drawings for contractors to build. Once a building is built, I will visit the building to ensure it has been built per my initial design and complete a quality assurance of the final building.
What drives/motivates you every day?
I want to make the world a better, healthier, more sustainable place for my children. I’ve recently had a son, so I want to leave him with a better planet than what I was given.
What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t accomplished yet?
I’d like to become an ASHRAE Fellow one day. I’ve always had a passion for teaching and mentorship — I would love to teach at the university level at somewhere like UC Berkeley or Stanford. One of my main goals is to become a partner or CEO of an engineering firm within the next five years.
What’s one thing no one knows about you?
I love to cook probably more than anything else. Exploring foods from different cultures helps clear my mind. I enjoy creating healthy and satisfying dishes for my friends and family. I think just about any problem or issue can be solved by sitting at a table with people you love and enjoy.
I also enjoy photography, traveling, and working out. I'm really into mental health right now. Yoga, meditation, hiking, etc. — all of these activities help to balance your life and rejuvenate your mind.
List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe exactly how they’ve shaped your success.
My dad, mom, and my high school physics teacher, Mrs. Taylor, are all mentors. Women who have inspired me include Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg; Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook; Sallie Krawcheck, CEO of Ellevate; businesswoman Arianna Huffington; and the late Nina Gruen, principal sociologist of Gruen + Gruen in San Francisco, whom I was lucky enough to get to form a very brief friendship with.
Sheryl Sandberg's book “LeanIn” was very inspirational to me as well as Nina Gruen's book “Believe it Or Not: The Challenges Facing One Professional Woman a Half Century Ago.”
What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field?
Just go out there and give it your all. You'll always think there are people doing it better than you, but they aren't. Women need to stop doubting themselves and start becoming their own cheerleaders. Engineering degrees can be very difficult to earn, but it's worth it once you get into the field. As a career, engineering can be very rewarding, as it teaches you valuable analytical skills that can translate into different areas.
Also, always ask people for coffee, lunch, advice, input, whatever. People who have done well in their own careers are usually pretty eager to share. Find those people and ask them how they accomplished what they’ve accomplished in their careers.