#FemaleFriday

Katrina Lawrence, EIT

Katrina Lawrence, EIT works for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission as a Senior Project Implementation Engineer. There she manages local projects for PennDOT District 6 and helps run federal funding programs for both PennDOT and NJDOT. These mainly include transportation alternative projects such as bicycle and pedestrian projects for municipalities in the region. She graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a B.S. in Civil Engineering and has lived in Philadelphia for 4 years. Katrina is the ASCE Philadelphia YMF’s Treasurer, a member of Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS), and a tutor for math and sciences at Philadelphia Futures. She was named ASCE Philadelphia’s 2018 Young Government Engineer of the Year and a 2018 Greater Valley Forge Top TDM Professional Under 40.

When did you realize you wanted to be a civil engineer?

The idea of engineering was introduced to me at birth, or before then if that’s possible. My father is a chemical engineer who absolutely loves his job. I grew up with daily photos of his university, Michigan Tech, and conversations about engineering at the dinner table. In high school, he even brought me to professional chemical engineering events to expose me to the field. All this lead to me attending Georgia Tech to major in biomedical engineering with hopes of designing orthopedic braces. Spoiler alert: that’s not quite what happened. Georgia Tech is in the heart of Atlanta, a car centric city, and my dorm room overlooked a 14-lane highway (75/85). My new surroundings combined with growing up in North Jersey, where I walked and biked everywhere, made me realize that I was on the wrong path. I was fascinated with transportation, public infrastructure, and learning about the movement of people and goods. More so, I wanted to be a part of creating that network and connecting people, so I changed my major to civil engineering as a sophomore and never looked back.

What do you enjoy most about your career as a civil engineer?

I have a unique position where I get to help shape projects for funding and then see them go from a line on a map to being built and open to the public. The best part of my position is being a part of something that I’m passionate about both personally and professionally. As an avid cyclist myself, I enjoy helping to create the region’s bicycle network along with delivering projects to create safer conditions for pedestrians. Seeing a project open to the public that increases mobility and has been on a municipality's to-do list for years makes this job truly fun and rewarding.

In retrospect, what do you know now that you wish you knew before you pursued your engineering education?

As mentioned earlier, with my father being an engineer I had a jump start on understanding what it took to become an engineer. I also understood that as a female civil engineer I would be in the minority. What I didn’t know was what that meant for me. Today, I wish I knew earlier how to speak up for myself and navigate the uncomfortable situations that that ratio could put me in. There were times, especially right out of college, that I remained silent as I was afraid of jeopardizing my career. Experience and confidence have taught me not to accept harassment, sexism, or unfair treatment as part of the job. Would this knowledge have changed my decision to become a civil engineer? Absolutely not. But it would have given me the determination as a young engineer to lean in to opportunities with confidence and grow as an engineer.

Favorite part of the ASCE Philadelphia YMF mentorship program?

My favorite part of the program was seeing the industry through a student’s eyes and discussing the endless possibilities and paths that their career could take them. Each time we met I wasn’t sure what the conversation would be about, but the informally of the program let us broach a wide range of topics. I continuously hear that college is important for the things that are learned “outside the classroom” just as much as the inside a classroom walls. The foundation for time management, work ethic, and a work/life balance is set in college and consequently are so critical to a professional career.