By Caitlyn Ownbey, Assistant Environmental Engineer, Burns & McDonnell

I often get asked the question: “How did you get into engineering?”

I’d love to be able to say that I was inspired at a young age and encouraged by my teachers to pursue a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career. But, in reality, I just lucked into it.

Growing up, I was drawn to English — I loved reading and writing — so my teachers encouraged me to pursue a career as a teacher or writer. Engineering wasn’t even on my radar.

When my high school graduation crept closer, I was having in-depth conversations with my family about what type of degree to pursue. My dad and brother really encouraged me to look at engineering. As the deadline to declare my degree arrived, I made a last-minute decision to go for it.

I’m so grateful I did. When teachers and friends found out I was going to be an engineer, they were shocked. They had pigeonholed me into one path, simply because I enjoyed English. What they didn’t see at the time, and what I didn’t fully recognize, was that I am very analytical. I love to examine literature at a deeper level. I love finding creative solutions to challenging problems. I love helping people succeed. These are the qualities that make me a good engineer.

Today, I make a point to visit local elementary and secondary schools, volunteer at science fairs and competitions and sign up to speak at career days across the community. I’m inspired by the “you can’t do that” or “that’s not for you” or “you’re good at reading and writing, so don’t do that” stories that are all too frequent. When I present at schools, I want to see at least half the room filled with girls, instead of just two girls in a sea of 100 boys. I want teachers to see how important it is to showcase diverse career options for students, regardless of what subject they excel at most.

Our industry needs more diversity. Diversity of thought. Diversity of background. Diversity of gender and race. Diversity of experience and skills. The only way for us to truly move the needle is by sharing our stories, encouraging all students at a young age to explore engineering and showing all students the incredible opportunities within STEM professions.

With Engineers Week coming up Feb. 17-23, I implore you, my fellow engineers, to get out in your communities and share your stories. Show the next generation of our workforce how amazing this career path can be and make an impact on the future of our industry.

Learn more about what we’re doing at Burns & McDonnell to support STEM in our communities.