Shona O’Dea was always an inquisitive child. Her high school math professor — among many others — once accused her of asking too many questions. The daughter of an engineer, her dad seemed to always have the answers to her endless questions and always encouraged her to ask more. It was this curiosity that led O’Dea to pursue engineering at the Dublin Institute of Technology and ultimately land a career as a building performance analyst with the DLR Group.

“I feel fortunate that I’m paid to do what I love,” O’Dea said. “If I were to win the lottery, I would probably use the money to develop ultra-high-performing buildings and make sure that the energy efficiency measures we recommend do not get value engineered out of the project.”

Rae Anne Rushing, CEO/co-founder, Rushing Company, recalls taking an aptitude test in the fourth grade. The test revealed her skills were best suited for engineering. Waiting tables to make ends meet, she didn’t actually pursue the engineering profession until her second year in college. Now, more than 30 years later, her Seattle-based company is thriving and doing so under the tutelage of female leadership.

“In 2014, Rushing Company achieved 40% female technical staff diversity,” Rushing said. “This was not by design, rather we were only hiring the most qualified professionals. Our company was fortunate to attract a high ratio of qualified female engineers because of my presence. I’m very proud to provide mentoring and leadership for women in the industry.”

In elementary school, Sheila Hayter rarely skipped a math assignment. Math was important because it unlocked the doors of thermodynamics, a point her father continuously stressed.

“I worked hard in my math classes all the way through high school knowing that someday I would need to be ready for my college thermodynamics class,” Hayter said. “It wasn’t until I was thinking about what I would study in college that I learned only engineers take thermodynamics. By then, I thought it was too late to consider any other degree. Oh, and I did eventually take that long-awaited thermodynamics class. It went better than I expected.”

Hayter’s determination earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Kansas State University and the University of Colorado-Boulder, respectively, and a career as a senior engineer with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Most recently, she served as the 2018-2019 president for ASHRAE, one of the most prestigious engineering associations in the world.


20 to Watch: Women in HVAC

Stories like O’Dea, Rushing, and Hayter’s are becoming more and more common in engineering firms across the nation. According to the Society of Women Engineers, 36,453 women obtained bachelor’s degrees in engineering and computer science in 2016 — a 53% increase over the 23,606 who obtained degrees in those fields in 2011.

Engineered Systems is dedicated to highlighting the outstanding achievements of the women in engineering through its 20 to Watch: Women in HVAC contest. Winners of the inaugural contest, including O’Dea, Rushing, and Hayter, were revealed in the January 2019 issue of ES. We’re excited to share that the second annual 20 to Watch: Women in HVAC contest is now open and accepting nominations. Winners will be announced in our February 2020 issue, which will be distributed at the 2020 AHR Expo.

We’re looking for women at all steps of the industry — not just the most powerful and/or influential. The only requirement is that nominees have to be women and work in the HVACR engineering sector. Do you know of anyone worthy of this achievement? If so, visit and submit your nomination today!

Register for our free webinars at, where users can also view any webinar from the last year on demand in our archive. Here is a look at the next presentation on our calendar.


July 23

Lessons in Data Capture for MEP - 2D Scanplan vs. Focus Laser Scanner sponsored by FARO

Presented by Chris Taylor, BIM manager, DLR Group

July 7-10

Cooling Technology Institute (CTI) Committee Workshop

Memphis, Tennessee


July 11

National Standard Plumbing Code Public Hearing Set for July 11, 2019

Atlantic City, New Jersey


Aug. 12-15

2019 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Industry

Portland, Oregon