As kids, we're often told that we can do anything if we work hard enough. And yet, representation of women is still sorely lacking in STEM-related fields. In fact, roughly 15 percent of the 9.1 million people working in transportation and material-moving occupations are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That's why PennDOT takes recruitment of diverse candidates very seriously, and celebrates days like Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, part of National Engineers Week. Employees of all genders, nationalities, race, and orientation are important to PennDOT in achieving an organization that represents the diversity of the very people we serve in Pennsylvania.
"A career in engineering is the most rewarding career I could have chosen," explained Brandy Miller, a civil engineer of transportation in PennDOT's Pittsburgh-area District 11.
Miller is a perfect example of how you can achieve anything if you put in the hard work and dedication. She says she started to formulate her path toward engineering in high school on a trip to Kennywood amusement park for Physics Day.
"(I enjoyed) analyzing how a roller coaster can be pulled up the first hill and then see how the engineers designed the track to maximize the amount of kinetic energy it needs to coast the rest of the ride."
In 11th grade, a representative from the Pittsburgh Job Corps Center came to talk to Miller's school about the opportunities the program offered — including sponsoring a career as a civil engineer.
"I knew that was what I wanted to be — someone who contributed to my community and utilized my abilities in math and science," Miller said. "Little did I realize then that this position would also open me up to experiencing new technologies and tapping into my creativity."
After finishing the program with the Pittsburgh Job Corps, Miller had three associate degrees — in civil engineering technology, computer aided drafting and design, and architectural drafting and design. That's when her career at PennDOT started.
"As I was studying at college, I heard a lot of talk about the community of PennDOT and how becoming a state employee has so many benefits," she said. "People talked of how PennDOT has great competitive pay, health benefits, retirement, job security, and worked directly for the community. Hearing all of these wonderful things inspired me to apply at PennDOT as an engineering technician."
She has now been with the department for 13 years.
But Miller wasn't finished with her education yet. She says her job with PennDOT provided her with the stability and support she needed to pursue a bachelor's degree in civil engineering.
"Obtaining my bachelor's degree was so fulfilling," she said. "It opened up the next level of learning and exposed me to the different types of engineering. So many interesting things are involved in creating that roller coaster, or a roadway, like the type of soil that the structure is sitting on, and what types of software are used to create it."
The road to her bachelor's degree wasn't easy, however. After two years in the program, her father passed away — something that affected Miller greatly. She decided to pause her education to grieve and pursue her own family. She got married and gave birth to a little girl. Once her daughter was 4 years old, Miller returned to school and graduated in 2013.
"Being able to finish school while having a family is definitely achievable, though some homework was colored on by little hands with crayons," she said. "This made the completion of the degree so much more valuable to me."
Miller still wasn't done, though.
"Being a woman in a predominately male field made me realize that people think differently, whether they are culturally different or gender different or whatever their diversity," she explained. "It took me a while to realize that if I wanted to collaborate with my co-workers, I needed to understand them."
So, Miller took online courses and obtained a master's degree in engineering management. She also joined PennDOT's inaugural mentoring program, where she was paired with a senior employee who shared his experiences to help guide Miller along her career path. The program also offered seminars that covered skills like persuasion and influence, building a reputation, and organizational processes.
"PennDOT heard me when I started asking questions about how to be a better employee and develop into a future leader," Miller said. "Having a mentor through your career is one of the No. 1 things an employee can do."
Miller never let being a woman in a predominantly male field stop her from achieving her dreams. She worked hard and persevered: "Working for your community, creating sustainable projects, and maintaining the existing infrastructure is a rewarding career for a woman."