#FemaleFriday

Mary Pat Tumelty, PE

Mary Pat (MP) Tumelty, PE is a Staff Engineer at Pennoni’s headquarters in Philadelphia, in their Transportation Division. With almost 10 years of experience she primarily designs a variety of highway, utility, and green street infrastructure projects throughout Philadelphia and Southeast PA. She attended Drexel University where she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering with a focus on water resources. She is currently on Mount Saint Joseph Academy’s (MSJA) Alumnae Board and was recently nominated for the Board of Directors for the Engineers' Club of Philadelphia. She is an active member of Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) serving on their finance and membership committees. Additionally, she is involved with American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), ASCE-Younger Member Forum (YMF), and Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) Partners. In her free time, she enjoys walks with her dog Ginger, attending concerts, and taking Scenic Byway road trips.

How/when did you realize you wanted to be a civil engineer? / Why did you first study engineering?

There are three things in my life that I attribute to why I became an engineer: LEGO, Roller Coaster Tycoon, and FIRST Robotics. LEGO was my first exposure to spatial thinking, a critical skill for engineers. I started tinkering with LEGO with my dad around three or four years old and was a full-fledged LEGO Maniac by the time I was eight. My LEGO passion has remained consistent ever since. Admittedly, my coffee table is currently covered with LEGO bricks, as I find it to be a great way to unwind after a busy work day. As I got older and computer technology improved, I became obsessed with a computer game called Roller Coaster Tycoon. My fellow older millennials likely know this game well. For those of you who are not as fortunate as me to grow up with this game, it involved building and running an amusement park. My favorite thing to do was build custom coasters, and I have to say, I was pretty good at it. I decided when I grew up, I would become a roller coaster engineer. I pursued this dream through my sophomore year at Drexel but gave up on it when I realized that Civil Engineering may be more realistic with more job security. Also, it did not help that me and Dynamics were never going to be friends. Now if you ask my family why I am an engineer, I guarantee they will tell you it’s from my time spent on my high school robotics team even though I personally attribute it to LEGO and RCT. While I learned a lot during my time with robotics, and it certainly continued my passion for becoming an engineer, my bigger takeaway from it is the importance of having good mentors. If it weren’t for their guidance, my engineering passion may have fizzled out during high school.

What advice would you give young female engineers entering the civil engineering workforce?

Own your confidence. I am very grateful to be raised by a woman with an outrageous amount of confidence. I was privileged to have my confidence reinforced by going to an all-girls high school. There are probably even people who would argue that I have too much self-assurance. But even with all that, I grew up in a world with implicit gender biased. Sure, the world is slowly changing, but females are (still) often expected to be humble, modest, and demure. There are studies that show the woman tend to attribute their successes to external factors beyond their control while men tend to attribute their successes to internal factors within their control. Conversely, women tend to blame themselves for their failures while men will brush it off as bad luck. I frequently have moments when I doubt in my abilities. This is called the “Imposter Syndrome”. Even though I know I am capable, deep down my intuition tells me that I’m a fraud. Am I faking it? No. Am I the intelligent woman that my peers perceive me to be? Yes. I actively work toward suppressing my self-doubts so that my confidence can shine through. Listen ladies, it’s unnatural for us to brag about ourselves, we want to be perfect, we are dismissive of praise, we say sorry when we did nothing wrong. Stop doing that. Stop using the word ‘just’ in emails. Avoid saying ‘actually’. Is there a more authoritative way to ask that question? Why are you asking permission when it should be a statement? I guarantee you are using more words than necessary to convey your message. This is business, be direct and get to your point. Take risks. Make mistakes and forgive yourself when you do. Get out of your own way. At the end of the day, you are your own biggest advocate. You know that you are competent, own it. You aren’t just lucky, you are smart, capable, and knowledgeable. Believe me when I say that confidence is a more critical skill than competence, but when you pair the two together, you’ll be unstoppable.

What is your personal mantra?

I grew up with the saying “The next best thing to knowing the answer is knowing where to find the answer.” If I asked a question that my parents didn’t know the answer to, rarely would they tell me a simple “I don’t know”. More often, they would tell me everything they did know, and together we would consult the encyclopedia or go to the library until I found my answer. This scene played out fairly regularly in my childhood, as I was very inquisitive by nature. As an adult, I continue to crave information and facts. Lucky for me, finding answers has become much easier thanks to Wikipedia and Google. I wish I could know all the answers off the top of my head, but that is a superhuman ability. I prefer having the ability of knowing where I can find the answer because I never know what other good information I may come across during the hunt. If I know where to find the answer, I can always look for it again in the future. I attribute this mantra to my absorptive mind. Once I digest the details of materials, I rarely forget where I learned the information even when I forget the specifics. As I progress in my career, I am finding this to be an integral part of my successes. I am addicted to using all the resources available to me, be it a random news article, an obscure manual, or having an informative discussion with a master engineer. As engineers we are often tasked with solving difficult problems, problems that don’t always fit into the box of our past experience and prior knowledge. Ideally, I want to have answers off the top of my head, but I often find myself in situations where there is not an immediate answer to a quandary. When that happens, I am grateful for my ability to find the right solution and be the answer to my clients’ problems.

What has been your favorite part of the ASCE YMF Mentorship Program?

The woman I am today can largely be attributed to having two strong mentors in my life. They started as advisors on my high school robotics team, but we formed a lifelong bond that I treasure to this day. Having them as trusted advisors inspired me to do the same for others. There is something unique about mentorships. A mentor falls somewhere in the middle of being a friend, a teacher, a parent, and a coach, yet at the same time being none of those things. A mentor is a trusted advisor and a confidant in many ways. One of the scariest things early in your career is asking questions. Admitting what you don’t know creates a large amount of fear and anxiety for a young engineer. It is important to have someone that you can go to for advice and get candid feedback without fear of retribution. (Although, to my mentees and proteges, I would say that this fear is unfounded so ask questions.) I love helping someone develop and realize their potential. A mentor relationship allows for an honest conversation in a space that may not be available in any other aspect of your life. I am glad that I can be a resource for those early their career and hope that I inspire them to be a success.