Name: Kelley Bieghler
Title: Managing Partner, KBSO Consulting
Educational Experience: Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering, University of Evansville
Professional Credentials/Accreditations: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional (AP)
Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: Monumental Award for Adaptive Reuse – City of Indianapolis, Best Places to Work in Indiana, ASHRAE Member
What caused you to/when did you fall in love with engineering?
From an early age, I enjoyed problem-solving and building things. My mother hid away a cache of special toys and brought them out occasionally as a reward (or more likely when she really needed some quiet time). Those toys became coveted, as they couldn’t be accessed on any whim. Lego bricks and Tinkertoys were in that special box, and those were the ones I looked forward to the most. I also had a “How It Works” book that I remember fondly. A couple of wonderful female calculus, physics, and chemistry teachers in high school encouraged my engineering path. Beyond those early years, the opportunity to design engaging and sustainable environments for our clients has proven very fulfilling.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the skilled trades?
While I don’t specifically work “in” the skilled trades, I certainly partner with them. A few great partnerships with mechanical and electrical contractors can teach lessons you don’t learn in engineering school. I leverage those to educate our employees and clients as projects move through the construction phase.
Describe the proudest moment in your career.
Last year, KBSO Consulting was able to offer two full-ride STEM scholarships to students of one of our K-12 education clients. My business partner, who is a minority, and I wanted to make a difference for a couple of students who looked like us, a person of color and a female. The recipients both started as freshmen this fall, and we look forward to supporting them throughout their college careers with internship opportunities and beyond.
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?
Times have thankfully changed over the past 30 years. As a 1983 high school graduate, I was unable to attend one of the premier engineering colleges in the country, which happened to be in my hometown, as it was a male-only university then. I’m happy to say that I’ve since worked alongside a couple of extraordinary female graduates of that same university.
Engineering sounded intimidating to me as I contemplated career choices. I misunderstood the breadth of the field and imagined myself focused on a single task with little interaction with others. Designing a turbine blade or improving a manufacturing process sounded lonely and uninspiring. Consulting has provided me an opportunity to collaborate with interesting people on a multitude of project types. If you think about stereotypical gender profiles, women are typically thought of as creative, social, and multitasking individuals, while men are typically thought of as focused and task-oriented. Engineering requires both.
Managing a family and an engineering career/company can be challenging. Opportunities for women in engineering may be passed over because there just aren’t enough hours in the day. My hope is that flexible work opportunities will help young female engineers remain in the workforce after (or if) they start their families. I was able to work part-time while I raised my children, and that made all the difference in the world.
Girls need to be exposed to the variety of career opportunities under the engineering umbrella. Today, more than ever, the world has complex problems to solve if it’s to survive. We need the very best thinkers offering different perspectives and skill sets.
What does your day-to-day job entail?
My day-to-day tasks are a mix of management and project responsibilities. I occasionally serve as a project manager on specific projects, but that responsibility continues to wane as our company grows. I will always enjoy working with clients to establish the overall mechanical direction of a project, and I hope to continue in that role indefinitely. My company management tasks include business development and marketing, manpower and growth planning, financial forecasting, proposal development, and working alongside my business partner to establish the overall direction of the firm. We have a mantra of “We can do better.” That means we can serve our employees and clients better in every aspect from staff engagement to client experience. We spend quite a bit of time figuring out how.
What drives/motivates you every day?
We need to fix our planet and live more sustainably. When you consider that buildings account for 40%-70% of the energy consumption of the world, and HVAC accounts for the lion’s share of that total; it’s a heavy burden that we carry as designers of those systems. I feel that burden and hope to make a difference.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?
Like everyone, we learned that we could adapt quickly, not only with moving to a work-from-home model and, ultimately, a hybrid work environment but also with discovering new ways to protect building occupants through the design of HVAC systems.
What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t accomplished yet?
More and more people will be displaced by weather events and geopolitical activity. One thing those people will have in common is a need for health care, which, in those scenarios, may be difficult to find or, for the providers, difficult to perform without a sterile environment. I’d like to develop a mobile, modular, drop-in clinic that is completely self-sustaining and climate-controlled with clean water, lacking any need for utility connections. This clinic could be helicoptered into virtually any location. That’s my big idea, but I don’t see a clear personal path for its implementation — yet. Maybe some young engineer will see this and drive it into existence.
What’s one thing no one knows about you?
Well, outside of my desire to ride a Vespa through Italy, one thing people might not know about me is that, and this is a little embarrassing, I spend too much energy figuring out what to wear for work. I think too much about things like: Is this too feminine, is it too stuffy, is it too corporate? Men have it a little easier on this front. Before the pandemic, I was about to invest in a Steve Jobs-type of work uniform. I’m ready to get back to that plan!
List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe exactly how they’ve shaped your success.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have great mentors throughout my life. These include my parents, a couple of fabulous bosses, my own family, business partner, colleagues, etc. There are a few that stand out. Bill Mosbaugh, who was one of my early supervisors, was instrumental in shaping my career. He was a fierce proponent of equity and focused on bringing up young engineers. He led with empathy and gave me my first real leadership opportunity. My business partner, Seun Odukomaiya, happens to be 20 years my junior. He has been an inspiration to me by bringing a youthful perspective, not only from a technology platform but also by bringing energy and insight to our endeavors. My husband has been a mentor by bringing stability and support and by helping me stay focused and encouraged. Another colleague Joyce Myers shows me regularly how to face challenges with joy and gratitude.
What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field?
I’d encourage them to dive in and go for it. There’s plenty of room in this industry for their talents. There will be challenges for women in any career, especially the male-dominated ones, but they can be overcome. How you respond to them will define your success.
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