20 to Watch: Women in HVAC - Sarah Garthaus
Director of virtual design, IMEG Corp.
Name: Sarah Garthaus
Title: Director of virtual design, IMEG Corp.
Educational Experience: Bachelor’s degree in architectural studies, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2007; master’s degree in natural resources and environment, focusing on sustainable systems, 2010, University of Michigan; Opus Project: Sustainable Urban Redevelopment: A Plan for Detroit’s Lower Eastside; graduate certificate in industrial ecology, 2010, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; MBA, St. Ambrose University, 2016.
What caused you to/when did you fall in love with engineering?
I took the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise tour right before I was required to make decisions on my college applications. That is where I discovered that buildings are cool. That trip inspired me to study architecture, and even though that particular career path did not stick, I wanted to stay in the AEC industry. I was lucky enough to find a niche position at a company that rewards employees who have a passion for innovation.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the skilled trades?
The people in the AEC industry come from a huge variety of backgrounds, experience, and knowledge. Every day I talk with someone who has something to teach me. There is so much to learn if you simply ask questions and listen.
Describe the proudest moment in your career.
Early in my career, I helped design a new animal exhibit for a local zoo. It was probably my first major project, and it was amazing as a young intern architect to see the pieces of the project come together. Nothing could have predicted the feeling of seeing that kind of hard work come to life. After the project was complete, the gift shop sold puzzles with a picture of part of the exhibit. The managing partner of the firm I was working for gave me one. I will never get rid of that puzzle.
What challenges do women face in this profession? Can you give a personal example?
There are many challenges facing engineers – not just women. I personally have seen a growing number of women becoming engaged in the AEC industry and have benefitted from mentorship and community among my female colleagues. A strong support network has provided me opportunities for input and guidance from women further along in their career. At IMEG, we are building stronger support networks through the creation of ‘Club 2025,’ a group with the mission to empower, educate, and advocate for professional and technical women. We regularly invite speakers and hold discussions around topics that effect women. We also take opportunities to be involved in the community, participating in events designed to introduce young women to engineering. Through these programs, we hope to encourage more girls to see engineering as a viable and exciting career path.
What does your day-to-day job entail?
My role involves supporting production, training, and creating new tools. A typical day will prioritize putting out fires. I am the last line of defense for support, especially where it could affect our ability to deliver to a client. Second, I focus on developing content that helps everyone in the company make use of our tools. Beyond that, I am free to innovate and expand our capabilities through new tools and processes. This is my favorite part of the job and something unique that IMEG has provided immense support for me to pursue. Even though I must prioritize the day-to-day responsibilities, it is so cool that I have the opportunity to devote time to the new, shiny, and fun innovations.
What drives/motivates you every day?
The AEC industry is innovating faster than any one human can keep up. I say this often enough to be obnoxious, but right now really is the most exciting time to be a part of the AEC industry. With better visualization methods (augmented reality and virtual reality, remote data capture) and so many opportunities for automation, we are going to see amazing, incredible changes in the coming years. I strive to be an implementer of those changes.
What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t accomplished yet?
With ever-changing technology, there will always be new and exciting innovations to chase after. I hope to achieve a work-life balance that allows me to pursue my passions in all aspects of life.
What’s one thing no one knows about you?
I love geology. I spent my most recent vacation visiting the National Parks of Utah – Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches. I went simply to experience the incredible geologic formations.
List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe exactly how they’ve shaped your success.
My parents are my greatest mentors and cheerleaders. Together they are the most hard-working people I have known in my life, and they did everything possible to help me grow as a person while advancing my education and my career.
What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field?
Confidence is a muscle; you must train it to make it strong. Practice gratitude. Be grateful for the good things and good people that surround you.