Over the last decade, career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields have grown three times faster than in non-STEM fields, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce . Pennsylvania is a national leader in STEM, but we need more people with these skills and knowledge to enter the field.
It takes a lot of careful planning and expertise in STEM fields to figure out how to best move people and goods from one place to another, to build safe bridges and roadways, and to provide communities with a high-performing multimodal transportation system.
PennDOT's engineers play a crucial part in the overall success of the department, which is why we wanted to highlight a few in honor of National Engineers Week (Feb. 17-23).
Senior Civil Engineer, PennDOT District 6
Mirlene Saintval grew up in Haiti, where pursuing a career in STEM was engrained in her at a young age.
"I fell in love with engineering when I was 8 years old," Saintval said. "I was inspired to build my own clay furnace after watching local bakers make bread."
Her passion grew when living in New York City, where she says she had access to "endless" resources, such as books, public, schools, libraries, and museum. "I had no excuses except to learn."
Saintval started with PennDOT in 2012 through the Civil Engineer Trainee program.
"I liked the idea of a 12 months rotation program that enabled civil engineers to learn all the different facets of transportation engineering," she explained.
Now, as a project manager, she oversees preliminary engineering and final design efforts on a multitude of roadway and bridge projects. And she works hard to instill that same passion for STEM in her own children, including her young daughter.
"There is no better time than now for women to become engineers," she said. "It takes commitment, hard work, and a willingness to stay in a learning mode. The revolution for girls, young woman, and mothers in engineering or any other related STEM fields is now."
Project Manager, PennDOT District 8
In 1996, Nexa Castro moved to Harrisburg to take care of her ailing mother-in-law. She previously lived in Puerto Rico, where she obtained her degree in industrial engineering science after being inspired to pursue engineering at a young age.
"My dad took me to see the construction of the Segovia Towers in San Juan," she explained. "I was amazed at the complexity and was inspired. I told my parents that I will be an engineer and someday I will design similar structures."
But when she came to Pennsylvania, she didn't have a strong grasp of the language, so she worked part-time at a department store to build her skills. After four years, she felt confident enough to join PennDOT as an engineering technician.
In her nearly 19-year career, Castro became the first Hispanic female project manager for District 8, and was part of a team that received a Diamond Award for Engineering Excellence from the American Council of Engineering Companies. And she is extremely proud of PennDOT and the work it does.
"We have come a long way as a department and we are still working on sustaining a diverse and inclusive environment where women can be successful," she said. "I'm proud we can say ‘We are PennDOT and you belong.'"
Senior Civil Engineer, PennDOT District 2
Leeanne Davis says she chose to enter civil engineering based on her love for math in high school, as well as following her dad's career in the construction field.
She is the only woman with a professional engineer license in the construction unit at Clearfield-based District 2. She was also a recipient of a Star of Excellence Award in 2015. This is PennDOT's highest honor, and is given to those employees that show intense dedication to their jobs and serve as examples for their co-workers.
"I encourage young women to explore the vast engineering opportunities within the transportation industry which extend well beyond the expected highway design," she said. "Transportation engineering includes all facets of planning, infrastructure, intelligent communication, construction, and maintenance required to provide the public — our customers — with an effective and sustainable transportation system.
Project Manager, PennDOT District 3
Maggie Jackson co-manages the largest capacity-adding project in the state — the Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project in Montoursville-based District 3.
Through high school, she was strong in math and science, and was encouraged by her dad to pick a technical degree. But it wasn't until her second year of college that she decided to pursue a career in civil engineering after rediscovering a passion for bridges.
"I would strongly encourage young women to consider engineering, especially if they have a love for math and science," she said. "They shouldn't be intimidated to be a minority in the field or discouraged if their mind doesn't process information exactly like their male counterparts. It's important to have a diverse work force that allows for innovative thinking."
Civil Engineer, PennDOT District 11
Allen Peng loves to solve problems.
"When I see something I'm always thinking, ‘How can I make it better, how can we make it more efficient, what tools do we have to fix the issues?'" he said.
He aspired to work for PennDOT ever since college.
"I really enjoy working for the people and bringing direct changes to the public, it's very humbling," he said. "The work we do here is truly phenomenal and a huge part is because of the people that make up this organization."
Aside from his job in the bridge unit in PennDOT's Pittsburgh-area District 11, Peng enjoys participating in volunteer and outreach program for students.
"It's one thing to be doing work that benefits the traveling public, but it's another thing to dedicate our time to inspiring the youth to become passionate about the jobs that we do here at PennDOT," he said. "I had no idea what bearings or diaphragms meant when I was in high school, but middle schoolers are already being exposed to those terms."