January 2021

Name/Title: Katherine Pitz, mechanical engineer, Kohler Ronan
Age: 27
Educational Experience: Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Fairfield University
Professional Credentials/Accreditations: Engineer in Training (EIT)
Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: Professional Women in Construction (PWC)

Katherine Pitz

What caused you to/when did you fall in love with engineering?

I fell in love with engineering during my sophomore year of college when I volunteered with Engineers Without Borders. I had the opportunity to travel to Bolivia for two consecutive summers to build a water-chlorinating and sand-filtration system. The systems were for a University in Carmen Pampa, which is just about two-and-half-hours outside La Paz. This trip offered me my first real experience with design work. It was rewarding to see, in person, the impact an engineer can have on the community.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the skilled trades?

As an HVAC engineer, you can see the projects you work on come to life. After construction is complete for any project I work on, it is fulfilling to witness the community enjoy the building. It is equally rewarding to be able to have a positive impact on the well-being of others by providing a better-quality living or working space. Especially in the current times, knowing my work can actually improve the health of the community is very gratifying and makes me strive to be a better engineer.

Describe the proudest moment in your career.

My proudest moment was seeing my first project through to completion as lead mechanical engineer. It was a time when I was given a lot more responsibility, and I was afraid of making mistakes. Looking back, I learned so much from the experience, and it positively affected my work going forward

What challenges do women face in this profession? Can you give a personal example? Why aren’t there more women in engineering? How can we increase the number of women in engineering?

Being the minority in any profession can be challenging. There are fewer women than men in leadership roles, which can make the path to success appear more daunting; however, I have found that these hurdles in the field of engineering are being overcome by women every day. In my last five years at Kohler Ronan, there has been a significant increase in the number of women working for the company. We also have a woman as a partner of the business. So, while the industry has more work to do, this is one positive example of a step in the right direction.
The low number of women in the field of engineering may be attributed to the assumption that engineering is a “man’s job,” but I trust, with more education, this assumption will be proven false. To increase the number of women engineers, I think we should focus on early education, where we can generate enthusiasm among girls for STEM subjects. Then, at the high school level, we need to do a better job encouraging female students to pursue relevant courses and to make them aware of the many rewarding job opportunities that exist within the field.

What does your day-to-day job entail?

My day-to-day job includes a variety of different tasks and responsibilities. These tasks tend to change based on what stage of the design process my projects are in. In the design phase of the project, I am working on space-proofing, the heating cooling load calculations, pressurization calculations, code analysis, specifications, equipment selection, and drafting of the mechanical drawings in either AutoCAD or Revit. For existing buildings, I also visit the field to confirm existing conditions. Another large portion of the design phase includes attending in-house coordination meetings with team members from other disciplines (electrical, plumbing, technology, energy) as well as traveling to meetings with architects and structural engineers outside the firm. During the construction phase of the project, I attend construction meetings and review mechanical submittals. I also get out into the field to review the installation of my design and confirm it is being built to specifications.

What drives/motivates you every day?

One of my main drivers at work is collaborating on projects that are truly fascinating. For example, I’ve worked on a Passive House project that had several unique architectural and mechanical elements. The goal of Passive House is to have a comfortable and sustainable building with very low energy consumption levels. It motivates me to know that my work is contributing to the energy efficiency of buildings. I also work on historical buildings, which are both exciting and challenging. I enjoy exploring the history of the buildings I work on as well as being a part of preserving them for future generations.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?

Personally, I have been very fortunate that none of my close family members or friends have been infected. But, as I am sure everyone feels, I miss spending time with friends and family and I am especially missing the spontaneity of NYC.
Professionally, I have had to adjust to working from home and mastering Zoom meetings. HVAC engineering is a collaborative discipline and being at home makes it significantly more difficult to have that collaborative experience. I truly miss interacting with all my co-workers and learning from them in person.

What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t accomplished yet?

Two things that remain on my engineering bucket list are passing the professional engineering exam and, with more experience, managing the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) design for a large-scale project.
I also aspire to work on more volunteer projects and find ways, through engineering, to give back to the community that has given me so much.

What’s one thing no one knows about you?

I am not sure there is “one” thing that no one knows about me, as I am an open book. However, I will offer a few non-engineering related facts that may be less known.
While running the NYC Marathon last year I got a taste of the infamous "runner's high." Consequently, I have been researching other marathons, including the Loch Ness Marathon in Scotland and the Big Sur Marathon in California.
Second, I would love to utilize my engineering skills to design my own house one day. Lastly, I am obsessed with Bernese Mountain dogs and have been patiently waiting for the right opportunity to adopt one.

List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe exactly how they’ve shaped your success.

Success in the field comes from great co-workers and teachers. At Kohler Ronan, I have been fortunate to have had an abundance of mentors that have motivated me to be a better engineer.
One engineer, in particular, is Talya Santillan. She is a partner at Kohler Ronan and is a great female role model in the industry. Talya has helped me develop my technical skills. She always takes questions, even when she does not have the time, and offers in-depth responses. She has had a key role in improving my issue-spotting and problem-solving skills.
Maxwell Chien, a senior associate at the firm, has given me great opportunities as a project engineer. He has been a key mentor in helping me develop my design skills and soft skills when collaborating with architects and engineers. I am very thankful for the encouragement, for it has boosted my confidence.
Sean Hutchinson is a mentor of mine from the PWC program. He has offered me great advice from an outsider’s perspective, helped me develop my soft skills, and encouraged me to network more effectively.

What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field?

The most important piece of advice I would give is be to more confident and do not second-guess your abilities. I would also encourage women to advocate for themselves because no one is going to do it for them. Finally, women should know that engineering may seem more daunting of a career than it truly is. With hard work and perseverance, you can achieve great things in the field.

Lead image [Photographer sturti/[Collection E+] via Getty Images

January 2021