Thursday, February 24, is Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. Celebrated during Engineers Week, February 20-26, it is a national movement that shows girls how creative and collaborative engineering is and how engineers are changing our world.

By Kasey Hurlbutt, CH2M HILL Staff Engineer

I have a confession to make: I love proving people wrong. For instance, when I was 11 years old, the sixth grade boys in my class didn’t think I could play basketball with them. I responded by taking the ball right down the lane and scoring a five-footer in Alex G.’s face. Booyah!

Another good example is my career. I’m a former prom queen who organized pep rallies in high school and served as the Human Resources manager for a non-profit camp in college. I’m not the first image that pops in your head when you think the word “engineer.” Frankly, I’m not the first image that pops into my head.

Growing up I never thought I could be an engineer. I was very smart, but lacked confidence in science, my least favorite subject, and math, which didn’t come naturally. It’s not that anyone ever told me I couldn’t be an engineer, they just didn’t tell me I could be one either. By the time I graduated high school, I genuinely believed that I wasn’t smart enough to be an engineer.

When I entered my freshman year at Stanford I was bent on AVOIDING actual math and science classes like the plague. So I took a seminar on environmental problems and solutions taught by Paul Ehrlich, which was a political science class focused on writing and presentation that just so happened to satisfy my general science requirement. It was during that class that I began entertaining the idea of becoming an engineer. Ironic isn’t it? I took that class to circumvent the sciences during college.

In that class we investigated several environmental challenges facing our planet. I was surprised by how these environmental problems impacted the quality of life of people around the world—especially children in developing countries. Kids were dying around the world from lack of safe drinking water, bathrooms and sewer systems. The more research I did, the more I realized how important public infrastructure is to maintaining the health, safety, and happiness of communities around the world, including here in the United States. I knew that I had to help, even if it meant I had to work my butt off and take the dreaded math and sciences to get an engineering degree.

Six years later I have a B.S. and M.S. in Environmental and Civil Engineering, an Engineer-in-Training certification in California, and 1.5 years of experience designing wastewater treatment and stormwater drainage systems—and I love it all. People are still surprised to learn that I am an engineer (albeit in training, I don’t have my P.E. yet). I am certainly not the norm, yet. I am female; I have a strong appreciation for fashion; my cubicle is decorated in pink accents and inspirational quotes; I bake Funfetti cakes for my colleagues’ birthdays. But I am also a creative problem solver who is able to integrate math, science, anthropology, psychology, public health, economics, and politics to develop interesting and innovative solutions. Each day I use both sides of my brain and my heart to design a better world.

By pursuing engineering, I proved myself wrong. And boy am I glad! I hope my story encourages other girls to prove themselves wrong too. You don’t need to love math and science to become an engineer; trust me! So to all you girls out there who are creative problem solvers, strong collaborators and good communicators—if you are passionate about making a world of difference, shaping the future, and ensuring our health, safety and quality of life—then engineering is right up your alley! You do have what it takes, a good head on your shoulders and a big heart in your chest.  The world needs more engineers just like you! 

Oh, and did I mention that I take on the male engineers in our company basketball tournament each year? 

Ms. Hurlbutt is a staff engineer based in CH2M HILL’s Portland, Oregon office. Over the past year and a half she has been with CH2M HILL she has worked on a variety of projects ranging from stormwater drainage for Portland’s Sellwood Bridge, to hydraulic analysis for the California High Speed Train, to data management for CH2M HILL’s corporate sustainability reports. She also enthusiastically organizes company fundraisers for Water For People, her way of staying true to the reason she got in to engineering.