20 to Watch: Women in HVAC - Annie Smith
Director of energy services/mechanical engineer, Ross & Baruzzini
Name: Annie Smith
Title: Director of energy services/mechanical engineer, Ross & Baruzzini
Educational Experience: B.S. architectural engineering, Missouri University of Science & Technology, 2012; and B.S. civil engineering, Missouri University of Science & Technology, 2012.
Professional Credentials/Accreditations: P.E., Certified Energy Manager (CEM), and LEED AP BD+C.
When did you fall in love with engineering?
I remember taking my first HVAC class in college and learned about building loads and thermal comfort, thinking, yes, this is it. I want to do this. I was intrigued by how a building used energy to heat and cool the space, and how the systems you put into that building affected the energy performance. I was also involved in the solar house design team on campus, which designed and built a sustainable house for a national design competition. Being involved with that group was instrumental in my focus on building energy performance and sustainability.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the skilled trades?
The most rewarding aspect of my job has been the mental challenge of problem solving — figuring out how a building operates and how a mechanical system works. I love that I get paid to think critically. I also really enjoy learning the business side of our firm, including developing company standards, improving our workflow, and connecting with clients and colleagues.
What challenges do women face in this profession? Why aren’t there more women in engineering?
As a young engineer, you look for a role model whose path you can mimic, and it’s harder when there isn’t someone who looks like you to follow. Representation matters. A lack of female peers and female role models in management roles exacerbates the problem for women in our industry. Imposter syndrome is common. I find myself forging my own path a lot, which can be tiring. It’s kind of like being the first one hacking through the jungle brush, it’s easier to follow down a path already carved for you. Luckily I have great (male and female) mentors who have boosted and encouraged me.
One factor for why more women aren’t in engineering is knowing all the career options before college. Knowing engineering is a possible profession choice in middle school and high school is important. And being encouraged to be an engineer, if that’s your interest, is important, even when she’s the only girl in the room.
Describe what your job entails on a day-to-day basis.
Every day is different. My to-do list includes mechanical design, calculating energy savings, cost estimating, report writing, preparing drawings and specifications, field survey, project meetings, shop drawing review, dealing with construction issues as needed, energy modeling, LEED documentation, life-cycle cost analysis, internal standards, project pursuits, client development, project planning — really anything that needs to get done. Most of my time is in the office, but some weeks a good chunk of time is in the field. I delegate as needed and try to grow those up-and-comers that are younger than me, teaching them what I need them to know so they can take on more responsibility.
What drives/motivates you every day?
At the end of the day, the ultimate goal is to help our clients save energy. Anytime a client finds value in our services, which makes me very happy.
Describe the proudest moment in your career.
There have been a number of proud moments so far but honestly, I’ve still got a long way to go and I hope that the proudest moment in my career is always yet to come.
What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t done yet?
I would really like to get writer’s credit in an ASHRAE publication. When you can say you’ve “written the book,” that carries a lot of weight.
What’s one thing no one knows about you?
I don’t keep a lot of secrets so this is a tough one. One thing you should know about me apart from my professional life is that real estate is my second passion. I enjoy discussing current prices, investing strategies, financing methods, etc. I know it sounds boring, but I love it.
List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe exactly how they’ve shaped your success.
Marijn Braadbaart was instrumental early on in my career by exposing me to more than just the design of a project. He showed me how to look at a building from a utility usage perspective and essentially “play detective” before setting foot in the building. Since then, he’s pushed me to take on more responsibility in my energy services role and has consistently made me think about problem-solving, technical challenges, organization, business strategy, and technology in new ways.
What does the future hold for you?
Lots of exciting new challenges await us as we grow our energy services business. I’m looking forward to expanding our role in making this world a better place to live in when it comes to the built environment and our use of resources.
What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field?
Don’t be afraid if you’re the only one in the room. It won’t be that way forever. And in the words of Pam Beasley; “Be strong. Trust yourself. Love yourself. Conquer your fears. Just go after what you want. And act fast. Because life just isn’t that long.”