20 to Watch: Women in HVAC - Danna L. Richey
P.E., LEED AP BD+C, LEED ID+C, RESET AP, GPCP, Fitwel Ambassador, sustainability consultant, energy analyst, and HVAC systems designer, Newcomb & Boyd.
Name: Danna L. Richey
Title: P.E., LEED AP BD+C, LEED ID+C, RESET AP, GPCP, Fitwel Ambassador, sustainability consultant, energy analyst, and HVAC systems designer, Newcomb & Boyd.
Educational Experience: Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, technology, Georgia Southern University, 2008.
Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: Lifecycle Building Center Advisory Board Member since 2016; USGBC GA Executive Committee Member, 2017-2018; ASHRAE member since 2016; and Society of Women Engineers, GSU chapter treasurer, 2007-2008.
What caused you to/when did you fall in love with engineering?
When I started college, I chose nursing as my major. Then, I transitioned to pre-med. Then, I considered a business degree. In need of some direction, I talked with several academic advisors and mentors and ultimately decided to study mechanical engineering. I fell in love with engineering when I took thermodynamics. I was fascinated by the subject, and I love that I’m able to apply thermodynamics principles at work almost every day.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the skilled trades?
Most of the time, I only see my projects on paper. It is exciting to see the tangible results of my work in the field. Walking through a completed building and seeing my design decisions in person is very rewarding.
Describe the proudest moment in your career.
The day I passed the P.E. exam was my proudest moment. Prior to taking the exam, I didn’t have much HVAC design experience, but I knew that learning the material and earning the credential was an important part of my career path. I studied for 273 hours and passed the first time
What challenges do women face in this profession? Can you give a personal example?
According to statistics compiled by the Society of Women Engineers in 2018, only 13% of engineers are women, and the number of those women who are in leadership positions is staggeringly small. Because of this, it can be challenging for women in the engineering field to find a female mentor. However, it’s worthwhile to seek out women in the industry to learn from them. Finding female role models has been critical to my career growth. Talking with other women about how they manage challenges related to work/life balance has helped me overcome those challenges in my own way.
To increase the number of women in engineering, early exposure is important. Educating young women about the different career opportunities within engineering, so they better understand what we do and how interesting and meaningful it can be, provides us an opportunity to inspire them and get them interested in this field.
What does your day-to-day job entail?
I wear a few different hats at Newcomb & Boyd. I had eight years of sustainable building consulting experience prior to joining the company, so I serve both as an internal sustainability consultant to other engineers in the firm as well as an external consultant to owners and architects. I prepare and analyze energy models to identify opportunities for energy conservation and help our engineers interpret and meet energy conservation code requirements.
As an indoor air quality specialist, I educate our project teams and clients about healthy building design strategies by leading internal and external educational sessions and working closely with other engineers in the firm. As an HVAC engineer, I work with my team to design HVAC systems from conceptual design through completion of construction.
What drives/motivates you every day?
I’ve always been very eager to learn. I’m fortunate to work with an incredible team of very intelligent engineers who are more than willing to sit down with me and share their knowledge and expertise. I learn something new every single day.
What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t accomplished yet?
I would love to be on the design team for a net-zero or net-positive building project. I’m also passionate about indoor air quality and healthy buildings, so I would love to work on more projects where they are a central focus.
What’s one thing no one knows about you?
In 2009, I was laid off from my first job as a process improvement engineer at a manufacturing plant. It was in the middle of the recession, and very few people were hiring at that time. I decided to change my career path and pursue a career in renewable energy and sustainability. I attended networking events every week. I called up industry CEOs and invited them to lunch, and I took contract work as a solar panel installer. Throughout this process, I learned a lot about the industry and about myself. I became much more comfortable talking to people I didn’t know and gained a tremendous amount of confidence.
Ultimately, I was offered a job as a commissioning assistant, which required me to relocate. After all my efforts, moving to a new city where I knew no one was an exciting opportunity, and I didn’t hesitate to accept the position. From there, my career grew as I sought out new opportunities to learn about building mechanical systems and green building design. I am thankful that I was forced out of my comfort zone that year, as the experience helped me get to where I am today both personally and professionally.
List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe exactly how they’ve shaped your success.
Dr. Brian Vlcek encouraged me to be a leader within my university’s mechanical engineering program. This led me to take on the role of team leader for our senior design project to build a solar powered vehicle. This experience helped me to become a more confident leader and teammate and prepared me to take on leadership roles throughout my career.
My parents always made me believe that I could do anything I set my mind to and gave me the resources and support to do it. Their confidence in me has instilled the self-assurance to pursue and achieve the goals I’ve set for myself. Their support has given me the courage to make difficult decisions in instances where doubt may arise that have helped boost my career. There are several others, too many to list, who have supported me throughout my career. I am grateful for everyone who has helped me along the way.
What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field?
Get involved in industry related organizations, events, and volunteer opportunities. Be persistent and never underestimate your abilities — you are smarter and stronger than you think.