‘Engineering’s not just for the boys anymore’

Engineering is no longer a man’s world. Fewer high school girls than boys may profess an interest in building bridges or wearing a hard hat, but the number of women in engineering is growing. One of the new breed is Mackenzie Demkowicz, 24, of South Portland.

Demkowicz will celebrate her first year with Stantec Consulting, a global engineering firm with an office in Scarborough, this month. She was hired right out of school, having earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s in structural engineering from the University of Maine.

Growing up in Winthrop, Demkowicz was always playing with K’Nex construction sets, assembling the brightly colored connectors, wheels, rods and gears into bridges and race cars. With a dad who taught science and a mom who taught math, she had the family support she needed to pursue her interest in engineering.

Demkowicz says females are probably about 20 percent of engineering students these days, aided by the Society of Women Engineers, a national organization she belongs to that works to inform young women of the opportunities in engineering and to encourage women engineers to higher levels of achievement.

At Stantec, Demkowicz also feels supported and feels she is part of “a good group of girls” with a “range of girliness.” Her projects involve the power industry and “a little bit of bridge work.” Her immediate goal is to get her professional license, so that she can have more responsibilities and work more on her own projects.

Q

What do you think are the top characteristics of an innovator – a woman who breaks the mold?

A

Some of the top characteristics of an innovator would include someone who is confident and willing to take risks; someone that would dare to break down stereotypes and think outside the box. Another key aspect is the ability to not only work independently, but also in a group setting and be able to effectively communicate new ideas.

Q

Who are your role models?

A

Two of my biggest role models have been my parents. Ever since I was little, my parents have always encouraged me to pursue whatever interested me. I always say that I received my math skills from my mom, who was a math teacher, and my interest in science from my dad, and together, these interests combined to create a good base for engineering. I also find other women in engineering to be great role models. It is inspiring to see women moving up in the world of engineering and being recognized for making a difference.

Q

Do you or have you had a mentor, and how significant has this person been in helping you achieve your goals?

A

I consider all of the amazing professors I had while at the University of Maine to be my mentors. They took the time to know all of their students as individuals, something that isn’t always typical in a large university, and were willing to help out and guide students in any way they could. Following the encouragement of several of my professors, I decided to pursue my master’s degree in civil engineering with a concentration in structural engineering. This enabled me to further work toward my goal of becoming a professional engineer by gaining more knowledge in the field of engineering and also more experience in the research sector of engineering in total, making me a more valuable candidate when first entering the job market.

Q

Have you been thwarted by sexism at any point?

A

Only in the sense that in the past engineering has predominantly been a male-dominated career. However, in my experience I have only felt encouraged by my peers in the engineering community and the number of women in engineering seems to be growing every day. At the University of Maine, the civil engineering program is typically made up of 20-25 percent women. While the number of women in the program may be smaller, professors have found that women are less likely to drop out than men and have a higher representation in the top quartile of graduating seniors and student leadership positions.

Q

What can mothers do to encourage breaking-the-mold thinking in their daughters?

A

Mothers should encourage their daughters to get involved in a variety of activities, even if some activities aren’t typically known as being “girly,” such as those related to engineering. There are lots of opportunities for young girls to get exposure to the field of engineering. The University of Maine system hosts activities such as an engineering badge day for Girl Scouts, girls-only trips to the research labs to get hands-on experience, and an annual Engineering Week fair. These activities help to get girls interested in engineering at a younger age and teach them that engineering really is fun and interesting and not just for the boys anymore.

Mackenzie Demkowicz

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