BY: ASHLEY SOWARDS, E.I.T.
Engineer II | Public Works
I knew that I would have to work to pay my way through college and although it didn’t scare me, I knew it would be hard. I am a first-generation college graduate, and the only one of my four siblings to attend college. I always had endless love and support from my family, but being the first one to do something always comes with challenges. I didn’t have a parent or older sibling that could give me advice or help me chose a major. I had the opportunity to design my own life and didn’t let social or economic factors get in my way.
When I took my first internship my senior year of college, I was nervous. I had been working two jobs coaching cheerleading the last four years so that I could earn my degree. I loved coaching and was scared to actually dive into the career I’d been working so hard for. Would I even like civil engineering? When I first started, I didn’t like the feeling of not knowing what to do. But, like everything else in my life, I took it as a challenge. I set myself goals to make sure that at the end of every workday, I had learned or mastered something new. In that time, I found out I genuinely love what I do. I have always been someone who over thinks and over analyzes everything, so civil engineering gave me a creative and useful outlet for these qualities.
After three years of working in San Antonio, I had become the go to girl for all things public works on our team. I was managing, designing and producing my projects. Goal achieved, I made it. So, what was next for me? Something felt missing. I had already passed the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam and was starting to study for the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) Exam, both administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), when I realized I wanted to work on different projects outside of my comfort zone. Call it an endless need to challenge myself. This, paired with the start of COVID-19, led me to Houston, Texas and EHRA Engineering.
I view myself as an independent and strong woman. So, when I chose civil engineering as a career path, the fact that it is a male dominated field did not deter me. I was one of the only females in most of my classes; I even had professors ask me if I was in the right class. While working in San Antonio, I was always one of very few women in the room. When I came to EHRA, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself working alongside so many female engineers. I am proud to say I work at an engineering firm where there are women in all tiers of the company.
Since passing the PE Exam this April, I now look forward to the next chapter of my career and becoming a licensed professional engineer in December. I think it’s important to always have a goal in mind, or something to work on or improve. We are constantly learning and finding better ways to do things, no matter what stage we are at.