Name: Carrie Anne Monplaisir

Title: Mechanical Engineer, Clark Nexsen

Age: 32

Educational Experience: Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering, University of Texas at Austin

Professional Credentials/Accreditations: Engineer in Training (EIT) and Guiding Principles Compliance Professional (GPCP)

Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: ASHRAE Region III Regional Vice Chair (RVC) for Young Engineers in ASHRAE (YEA); ASHRAE Chapter Leadership Academy Facilitator; ASHRAE Annual Conference 2019 Kansas City Technical Chair; ASHRAE Hampton Roads Chapter President 2020-2021; ASHRAE YEA Leadership Weekend Facilitator (two years); and ASHRAE YEA Leadership Weekend, International Facilitator (two years)

Awards: ASHRAE Distinguished Service Award; ASHRAE Region III ACE Award (Outstanding Chapter President); and ASHRAE Region III T.E.C. Award (Outstanding Chapter Technology Transfer Chair)

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

Growing up, I always loved solving problems. Math and science were my favorite subjects, but I had no idea the full range of careers available that utilize these subjects. I was disassembling and reassembling items I used daily, trying to figure out how they worked. So, when I was selecting my major, considering journalism or theater, my uncle recommended I consider mechanical engineering. I blindly trusted him and went with it despite the concerns of many of my other family members, who were somewhat skeptical that I could succeed. This only motivated me to prove them wrong.

By my sophomore year, I started to understand the world of engineering and embraced that it's full of challenges and ever-changing. I realized it was the perfect fit for me, especially my thermodynamics class. That was the moment I truly felt I belonged in engineering. I understood the theory better than any of my other courses, and, for the first time since arriving at the University of Texas, my classmates were coming to me for help. A lot of that had to do with one of my professors, Dr. Matthew Hall. He gave us “Thermo News” at the beginning of each class (any current events that related to thermodynamics), and he so clearly drew the connection between our coursework and the practical world.

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

Seeing a project come to life and experiencing firsthand the impact it has on the community, or in some cases the country, is extremely rewarding. The first two buildings I helped design were a pandemic influenza vaccine facility and a live virus vaccine facility. The pandemic influenza vaccine facility was designed to enhance the nation’s ability to respond to emerging infectious diseases, and the live virus vaccine facility is a sister facility to the pandemic influenza facility, offering modular self-contained laboratories for manufacturing small batches of biological countermeasures. At the time, I enjoyed the project because of the amazing team we had, our ability to collaborate on a project of that size effectively and efficiently, and the excitement of the fascinating design opportunities.

Now, after having lived through the COVID-19 pandemic with a newborn, I fully understand how crucial it is to have pandemic-response capabilities. I am even more thankful to have worked on both buildings that contribute to the rapid production of critical vaccines and were utilized to produce COVID-19 vaccines.

Describe the proudest moment in your career.

I’ve facilitated many leadership workshops and events throughout my career. I’ve always enjoyed seeing the outpouring of appreciation on LinkedIn and watching past attendees advance in their careers. The proudest moment was the very beginning of our Young Engineers in ASHRAE (YEA) Leadership 2.0 event, where each attendee and facilitator gave a presentation about themselves. Presentation after presentation, in some way, mentioned how impactful that first leadership weekend was on their careers and/or personal lives. It reminded me why I volunteer so much of my free time to ASHRAE and YEA.

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?

This is a very complex question, and, unfortunately, I have enough examples to fill a book. It all comes down to diversity, equality, and inclusion.

While we will always have room to improve our outreach in introducing girls and young women to engineering, our biggest challenge is retention. According to data collected by the Society of Women Engineers, more than 32% of women switch out of STEM degree programs in college, only 30% of women who earned bachelor’s degrees in engineering remain in the industry 20 years later, and 30% of women who have left the engineering profession cite organizational climate as the reason.

Until about a month ago, I thought I just struggled from imposter syndrome and needed to work to correct it myself. However, I then discovered that telling women we have imposter syndrome is quite dangerously shifting the narrative to blame women for their experiences in certain work environments instead of fixing the actual issue of systemic discrimination in the workplace.

Specific examples include being told by family I would fail by studying engineering, and then being told in college that I “didn’t look like an engineer.” Once I graduated and joined the workforce, I had a client demand an “introduction meeting” with the project manager, vice president of the company, my male colleague, and me to discuss my credentials when they saw a female name in an email even though I had the same title as my male colleague with whom they’d already been working with. I think these all contributed to my own version of “imposter syndrome.” In retrospect, I didn’t manifest it on my own, it was done to me by nearly everyone I interacted with. It took a significant amount of determination and stubbornness for me to persevere as long as I have. I’m thankful, now, to have many people in my life who support and empower me. I’m just disappointed in how long it took to find these individuals.

So, how can we increase the number of women in engineering? As an industry, we need to work to create a more inclusive culture. Employers must have anonymous communication channels dedicated to collecting feedback on the company environment and potential for improvement. Offer mentorship, flexible work hours and telework options, and professional development opportunities. As colleagues, we must call out micro-aggressions and be allies.

What does your day-to-day job entail?

Part of why I love this job so much is that no day is the same. As a mechanical design engineer for a large multi-disciplinary consulting firm, I’m faced with different challenges every day, and I’m always learning something new. One day, I could be focused on running load calculations and energy models to provide optimized system options for our clients. Another day, I could be working with the various teams through in-house coordination meetings. Other days, I’m donning a hardhat, solving problems in the field, climbing on rooftops, and inspecting existing equipment. We have daily mechanical team meetings to coordinate CADD tech availability; ensure everyone has something to work on; and, if anyone needs help meeting a deadline, we find someone available to help. I’ve also served in several roles within ASHRAE, so that occasionally seeps into my workdays. I’ve been fortunate that both organizations I’ve worked for have fully supported my ASHRAE involvement and recognize the benefit of doing so.

What drives/motivates you every day?

The opportunity to change the world and make a positive impact on the people and environment around me. I aspire to be part of the solution in tackling the climate crisis and creating a more sustainable and inclusive future for my daughter.

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

I became a mom a few months into the pandemic, which provided some extra challenges in addition to what many experienced when transitioning to working from home. With the guidelines of self-quarantining anytime she had a fever, I had to take care of her during the day while my husband was at work (she has attended her fair share of virtual meetings) and then start my workday in the evening. I was on a very inconsistent schedule, and I often had longer workdays with many interruptions throughout the day. It’s been really challenging, exhausting, and one of the toughest years for me, but, at the same time, I also feel very fortunate to have had that extra time with my daughter that would not have been possible pre-pandemic. I’m also very thankful to have a supportive and understanding team that helps me meet deadlines.

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

I hope to pass my professional engineering exam in the near future and then pursue green building accreditations like WELL and LEED AP. I’d love the opportunity to design a high-performance or carbon-positive building that goes beyond carbon neutral by producing more clean energy than it consumes to supply back to the grid. I also hope to influence industry peers to prioritize solutions to the climate crisis and take initiative to educate our clients on the benefits of sustainable energy. I’m always working to challenge the “how we’ve always done it” mindset and hope to continue making our industry more inclusive to all.

What’s one thing no one knows about you?

I was not very athletic in my childhood, but I now spend my free time chasing endurance sports that push me beyond what I think I'm capable of. I once climbed to the highest point in the contiguous 48 states, Mt. Whitney; I just ran my first marathon; and, shortly thereafter, I ran my first ultra marathon. I enjoy the challenge and accomplishment I feel once I reach the top of the mountain or cross the finish line.

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

The first person who comes to mind is Ann Reding. I met Ann while I was waiting tables, and she invited me to her office and took the time to give me an overview of the industry. That evening, we attended the ASHRAE chapter meeting, where she introduced me to every single person who had hiring influence at his or her company, quite literally saying, “This is Carrie Anne, she is about to graduate with a mechanical engineering degree — hire her.” I collected more than 30 business cards and had a job by the end of the event. Very similar to how I ended up in engineering, I basically stumbled into the built environment industry with help from a single person who believed in me.

The more time I spend in this industry, the more I realize it is the perfect fit. I’m very thankful Ann invested so much of her time and energy into helping me find a career. I will always remember running into her about a year later and saying, “How can I ever thank you? You’ve changed my life!” and her replying, “Just pay it forward.” That is ultimately why I began volunteering so much of my time to ASHRAE and our YEA Leadership Weekends. It is beyond rewarding to be able to make a positive impact by helping my peers and our future leaders.

I’ve been fortunate to work with some wonderful mentors throughout my career who have helped me develop my technical skills, exhibited patience with questions, and taken the time to walk me through high-level decisions.

Bill Klock started off as my ASHRAE mentor and helped me get more involved at the society level, which then helped me expand my network to a global level. He always looked out for me and helped me make some big decisions in my work and ASHRAE careers.

I really appreciated Michael Bejrowski’s ability to lead our team to developing a successful design, working effectively, but also team-building and having some fun along the way. Adam McElhaney has helped me further my technical knowledge, walked me through high-level decisions, and exemplified effective communication, which really helped me learn more on our most recent project than anyone else I have worked with.

A dear friend of mine Stephanie Kunkel and I recently decided to be each other's mentors. I’m really excited to see what we can accomplish when we work together and empower each other in our careers.

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

Find a good mentor, whether at your company or someone you know from a professional organization — someone you aspire to be like one day. Women are guaranteed to be more successful if they have a mentor. Connect with other women in the industry, as it’s helpful to know you aren’t the only one experiencing these challenges. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It will set you apart from others and help you learn and grow.