Name:Mykel Vallerga

Title: Project Engineer, Colvin Engineering Associates

Age: 27

Educational Experience: Bachelor of science in mechanical engineering (BSME), University of Utah

 

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

Numbers are a language that speak more clearly to me than words. I have always enjoyed math, especially when it challenged me. Its application to the real world led me to engineering. Working with simple numbers and pictures and having them then be used to construct a tangible and complex working machine is an incredible process.

 

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

Walking a job site (in progress and complete) and seeing the design come to life. Every piece of equipment, duct, and pipe is the culmination of plans, calculations, meetings, emails, phone calls, late nights, computer/software problems, coordination, collaboration, and teamwork to bring the project to fruition.

 

Describe the proudest moment in your career.

Designing and walking through a finished 40,000-square-foot mechanical room with more than 35,000 linear feet of pipe stacked three layers deep and routed to all the systems. It is a beautiful thing to behold. This project was very mechanically intensive with the sheer size of the building, amount of equipment, special lab requirements, and variety of systems. We had a great team on the design and construction side. It was an incredible project to be a part of.

 

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?

I can only speak for myself. One challenge I have faced is being confident and holding my ground. Having been the only woman in a meeting with a dozen men who have decades of professional experience and being put on the spot to answer tough questions that weren’t on the agenda — it can be nerve racking. There is an additional level of complexity with being on the technical side of the design to understand the question, possibly having to decipher what the actual intent is, and respond accurately and in such a way that is understood by non-mechanical members of the design team. Overall, I have had positive experiences when put in this situation and have had the opportunity to work and learn from many knowledgeable people in the industry. There is not a simple or single answer as to why more women are not in engineering. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. The engineering field is challenging, but there are tons of brilliant and strong women out there. Encouraging women, especially when they are young girls, to build, tinker, explore, and persevere through tough challenges is an easy place to start.

 

What does your day-to-day job entail?

No two days are the same as an engineer. Each day brings its own unique challenges and mini victories, ranging from being on the computer with modeling, designing, and emails, to all-day meetings and workshops or visiting job sites and crawling through tunnels. I never know what the day will entail, so I always keep a backup pair of work boots and heels in the car.

 

What drives/motivates you every day?

To be better today than I was yesterday. Growing up, my parents never had to worry about or encourage/bribe me to do my homework because it was a natural drive I had (and still have) to work hard and learn. I am motivated to continue learning and excel in the HVAC industry. My immediate goal is to be a project manager by 30.

 

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

Transitioning to working from home has been the largest impact, personally. While my dogs have loved it, the cat has not. I did not realize how important the decompression time was during my drive home. It took time to configure new boundaries between home and the home office. The impact has been fairly minor professionally. It has been an adjustment not having my coworkers to bounce ideas off of, banter with, and feel the comradery of a late night at the office to get things done, as we have been (thankfully) busy through the pandemic. We have a great team at the office, and I thoroughly enjoy seeing them. I look forward to when we can all be back in the office together.

 

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

First and foremost, take (and pass) the P.E. exam. I’m also interested in designing the mechanical system in our future home, including, but not limited to, radiant floors; towel warmers; double-pane, thermally broken windows; and a wine cellar.

 

What’s one thing no one knows about you?

I love beach volleyball — spectating and/or participating. I grew up playing indoor volleyball but transitioned to beach and grass after college. My desk has been known to have sand in various places.

 

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

My boss, Roger Hamlet. I’ve learned and grown so much working under his guidance. He has helped me develop my skills and become more well-rounded as an engineer. Transitioning from being behind the scenes (crunching numbers and designing systems) to becoming more prevalent in the discussions and decisions of shaping the systems in the building. My Colvin Engineering Associates (CEA) leadership/coworkers provide vast experience to pull from. Our company has an incredible support system. When we are all in the office, there is a tangible energy of the kindness and determined work ethic that encourages everyone to improve and work hard. Mr. Barton, my high school AP calculus teacher, was the first person to inspire me to look into mechanical engineering. I will be forever grateful. My husband and family are my cornerstones. They’ve been key in supporting me, exploring with me, and loving me.

 

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

Be patient. There is often a steep learning curve for women in this industry. We are not specializing in one specific piece of equipment/system. There are many components in designing commercial buildings, so the knowledge base becomes exponential as the number of systems grow. There is always something to learn, which is also what keeps things interesting.