Name:Andrea Thompson

Title: Senior Project Manager, Specialized Engineering Solutions Inc.

Age: 43

Educational Experience: Bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering with a concentration in HVAC from North Carolina A&T

Professional Credentials/Accreditations:Professional engineer (P.E.) and a Certified Energy Manager (CEM), Association of Energy Engineers (AEE)

Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: Member of ASHRAE and the Associated Engineering Institute (AEI)

 

What caused you to/when did you fall in love with engineering?

As a child, I grew up with stories of how my grandfather went to school for general contracting and eventually started his own business. My grandfather built several homes in Roebuck, South Carolina. This was very inspiring to me, being he was a black man working in the segregated South. I cannot begin to tell you how proud I was when we drove by the homes he helped build. He even built the family home we came to visit him in for each holiday and summer vacation. From then on, I found I was engineering-inclined. My Christmas wish lists included race cars/tracks, Construx (not even sure if they make those anymore), Legos, and the occasional Barbie — complemented by her battery-powered Barbie cars. I remember fondly how my sister and I would construct cities down in the basement. We would spend hours using our various toys and map out an entire city, but then we'd be afraid to play with it. Math was always my favorite subject in school; however, I do not think I truly understood what engineering really meant until I went to college.

 

What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the skilled trades?

I have never been a creature of habit. I thrive off being pushed and challenged as I feel these are the moments when true growth happens. Skilled trades never go out of style, as we are always needed to build, fix, repair, and restore. The fact that no two days are ever the same is a bonus and what I find most rewarding. The opportunities in this industry are limitless.

 

Describe the proudest moment in your career.

The proudest moment in my career was very personal. It came during my transition from drafting/production to being more in the field. We were designing a replacement hospital in a small rural community, and I traveled to the site to participate in the above-ceiling inspection. The project was small enough that I had personally performed 90% of the mechanical drafting. When I walked in the facility and experienced essentially what I had drawn being “brought to life,” I was awestruck. It was a culmination of everything virtual becoming a reality. It was a big moment for me. I had to keep my cool and stay professional. I still remember that feeling like it was yesterday.

 

What challenges do women face in this profession? Can you give a personal example?Why aren’t there more women in engineering? How can we increase the number of women in engineering?

Women in engineering face several challenges in this profession, especially women of color. The most profound being the unwillingness to respect the knowledge of a female professional and the inability of the male counterpart to see beyond the gender and appreciate the mind. Personally, I have often found myself seated at the table as the only African American and woman. There is a natural predilection for others to doubt the knowledge of a female. Call it history or call it taught prejudice, but, oftentimes, when I've played an important role in a project and a male counterpart attends a meeting with me, I am ignored after the greeting until the end of the meeting. This happens until I am asked to speak and those in the room find out I am the one leading the project. This reminds me of the scene from "Hidden Figures," based on the life of Katherine Johnson, when the men in the room were trying to determine the reentry point for John Glenn’s shuttle. Kevin Costner’s character (Al Harrison) turns to Taraji P. Henson’s character (Katherine Johnson) and hands her the chalk. She proceeds to write the equations, solve the problem, and provide the coordinates right in front of their eyes. Men are appreciated for their potential, while women are appreciated for their accomplishments; I must prove myself first. More women are not in engineering because, early on, we, as girls, are introduced to genders and educated on the roles each gender will play in life, down to the jobs they will have. These teachings shape the girls' and young ladies' subconscious minds. What we learn from these teachings has a way of guiding our choices, which can often time lead us to following a traditional career path versus a nontraditional career path. To increase the number of women in engineering, we need more mentoring and educational programs stressing the importance of engineering at a younger age. We need women in this field of study to reach back and pull up. Young women need to understand an engineer is behind almost every aspect of our lives, from food production, manufacturing, farming, construction, transportation, and so much more.

 

What does your day-to-day job entail?

I have projects in all stages of the design/construction spectrum on any given day. There are projects we are interviewing for, projects in conceptual design, finalizing construction documents, and those in construction. My days are always varying tasks between client phone calls, project team meetings, drafting, specification modifications, and leading the team through each phase toward a successful project completion.

 

What drives/motivates you every day?

Personally, I am driven by my daughter. I want her to see there are no limits to what women can accomplish in both their personal and professional lives. Professionally, I am driven by the ultimate result of helping patients and improving lives. With most of my design/construction work being focused on health care-centered environments, it is obvious my work is making a difference every day.

 

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?

Being in the health care construction space, we have seen some projects slow down or go on hold, but, overall, the industry has kept on pace with COVID. Being in North Carolina, we were mandated to quarantine and work remotely. This has helped my team be more intentional in our communication, collaboration, and schedules. Personally, our home is now a remote school environment, so juggling my schedule and that of my daughter’s has been challenging, but I have seen a growth and maturity in her because of her independence and experience in getting her work done. She is much more vocal during her Zoom calls. It is amazing the skill sets this generation of young learners are acquiring and putting into practice each day.

 

What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t accomplished yet?

I aspire to mentor more young women to go into the engineering field. I have seen a shift in the industry in my 20 years, but I can do more to push this agenda forward.

 

What’s one thing no one knows about you?

Growing up, I learned to play the flute, oboe, and piano.

 

List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe exactly how they’ve shaped your success.

First and without question, is my grandfather Brady Otis Cureton. He instilled in me hard work and determination. He was a widower with five kids to raise yet worked hard and managed to send all five to college. He gave me the engineering dream. I would be remiss if I did not mention my mother, Dr. Elsie Leak, a single mother of two. She went back to school and obtained her Ph.D in education. She instilled in me that knowledge is power, and with it, there is no door I cannot open. My sister, Nicolle Groover, has always been a strong and determined person. She has given me the strength to stand up for myself without offending others and to never give up. I have had the pleasure of working with some amazing people during my career, too numerous to name, who have provided inspiration and growth. However, there are two who are more profound than others. Gary Burton, whom I started working with nearly 20 years ago, never hesitated in believing in my ability to learn this industry. He instilled the value that producing a quality project, no matter the circumstances, is of the utmost importance. I would also like to mention my current supervisor Charlie Hall, who has allowed me the opportunity to grow my career in management. He demonstrates the delicate balance in task management and caring about the people you lead. With hard work, determination, and knowledge, you become a mighty wave, and, with enough force, over time, you create major change. My success has a strong and sturdy foundation.

 

What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field?

As a woman who is considering a career in engineering, you will need to understand you could be taking on what may appear to be a daunting task in a male-dominated field. However, there is a growing community of uniquely qualified women engineers. So, if engineering is what you really want to do, I advise you to:

  1. Know who you are and be prepared to fight for it.
  2. Know and own your fear(s) but be sure to create a path for walking through them.
  3. Be prepared to build bridges as you may be traveling on a path no one has ever been on.
  4. Know your stuff and never stop learning.
  5. Always reach back and pull up.
  6. Keep your word and always, always follow through.
  7. Every scenario in life is a teaching moment for a greater opportunity.
  8. Enjoy yourself and find joy in whatever task you are addressing — even the ones that are not your favorite.
  9. Do not let anyone else dim your light.
  10. Remain true to you.

If you follow these 10 guidelines, you will be successful, happy, and healthy throughout your engineering career.