Today is International Women in Engineering Day (INWED), and it is the perfect occasion to reflect on the many ways a career can take shape – especially for women, who have traditionally been underrepresented in the field.
In 1876, Elizabeth Bragg became the first woman to receive a bachelor's degree in engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, but she never worked as a professional engineer; instead, she was a stay-at-home wife and mother. Bragg paved the way for the next generation of trailblazing women engineers, known for their courage, creativity, perseverance, and achievement, including Lillian Moller Gillbreth, Edith Clarke, Sally Ride, and countless others who entered the profession at a time when opportunities for women were limited.
Today, women make up about 47 percent of the overall workforce, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, but are underrepresented in science and engineering occupations. Only 14 percent of engineers are women.
PennDOT engineers play a crucial role in the overall success of the department. We rely on a network of engineers, transportation planners, and more to keep Pennsylvania connected – which includes our highways and bridges, along with a robust menu of travel and commerce options like aviation, transit and rail facilities that are so essential to keeping people and goods moving. They are also thinking about how to solve our infrastructure challenges of the future, and how to ensure our cities and communities stay ahead of the curve.
I was once a young girl who dreamed of one day becoming an engineer. While I followed a specific education path to achieve this goal, the reality is that math and science are not often a chosen career path for women.
Melissa Batula, PennDOT's Acting Executive Deputy Secretary has had an amazing career journey of her own, proving that the twists and turns on the way shouldn't always be viewed as roadblocks. She previously served as the Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration – the first woman to hold this position. A civil engineer, she started in the private sector with an aptitude for technical draftsmanship and earned her Professional Engineers (PE) license in 2002 and continues to advance her career as an engineering professional through college-level educational opportunities.
Melissa has not been afraid to try different paths along the way, and believes that leadership skills can be developed, just as one learns math or science if you trust yourself to get there. Serving as a mentor to younger professionals in the field, she often advises them to go to their comfort zone in order to propel themselves into new areas.
And, she doesn't make any apologies about being a woman in the mostly male-dominated field. "As a woman, you don't need to reform to be what everyone wants you to be — just be yourself," she said during a recent podcast with the Engineering Management Institute about her career journey.
Melissa is an inspiration to women, girls, or anyone with the knowledge, skills or drive to enter the field. Today, on International Women in Engineering Day, let's all take some time to recommit ourselves to engaging and inspiring the next generation of women engineers – there are many important discussions to come about the future of transportation, equity, and the latest innovations in safety. Women engineers will play a critical role in designing that future.