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Title: Client Executive/Senior Principal, Architectural Engineers Inc. (now IMEG)

Age: 53

Educational Experience: Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, University of New Mexico School of Engineering

Professional Credentials/Accreditations: Professional engineer (P.E.), mechanical engineering in Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. Accreditations: Massachusetts Certified Public Purchasing Official (MCPPO) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP)

Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: Professional Women in Construction Boston (PWC), founding board member; Women’s Transportation Seminar Boston (WTS); ASHRAE; United States Green Building Council (USGBC); and American Council of Engineering Companies, Massachusetts (ACEC-MA)

Susan Wisler

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What does your day-to-day job entail?

Most of it is management and being an “ideas” person. I have some select projects I work on when it is warranted and often still get into what I call forensics projects. For example, we have somebody call up saying they have an issue with mold, and they don’t know what to do. Or there is a bad IAQ issue, and they aren’t sure what’s going on. I jump into those projects, figure out what’s causing the issues, and help work out a viable solution. We also trust our younger engineers to take the lead early on, and when they encounter a situation that needs a more experienced eye, I will go along and help them figure things out, making it a learning experience. I like to take people through the process and encourage them to take a step back, do an assessment, figure out what they are working with, and establish their goals. I don’t do any design work now. I stick with studies, and once those are developed, I let other people do the engineering.

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

I've always loved bridges. The one I was most interested in was the Overseas Highway and how the bridges connect the Florida Keys. It was cool and showed me what engineers can do. That’s when I understood there were engineers in the world and that they design things like the bridges I admired. When I started studying engineering, I liked how everything moved in mechanical engineering. That was exciting to me, so that’s where I landed.

What has been the most rewarding/proudest aspect of your engineering career?

We tackle the sustainability of our designs. On projects where we know the client wants to do things inexpensively, we still try to go in and look at sustainability. We are generally able to offer sustainable solutions that are still affordable, which often surprises them. I notice others are not doing that, and I think it differentiates us from our competition and contributes to our success as a firm.

When I came into Architectural Engineers Inc., (now IMEG), I was the only mechanical engineer, so I was able to build the group from the bottom up, making sustainability and environmental stewardship a priority. I’m proud we don’t just do whatever the contractor or owner says. Instead, we say, “Well, did you know we could do this or that?" and give them other alternatives. When I hear the team offer those suggestions, I get excited they are offering solutions that benefit the planet.

We also promote improving IAQ. We design a lot of schools, where there are many children with asthma or other health issues. We are trying to supply good IAQ. With a school we designed years ago, we started by telling them you don’t have to do full cooling — just condition the ventilation air. So many schools are doing that now. It saves money but still offers good IAQ. I’m proud of that. And, I’m proud our group follows the same ideals that I do.

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?

I think they face the same challenges that men face: Trying to learn as much as you can as fast as you can. In my experience, men and women approach things differently in some ways. The biggest thing I notice is that women don’t negotiate for their pay as much as men. Being a person who does the hiring, I have seen women are much more willing to take a lower salary. I usually try to make sure they are compensated equally against others in the firm at their level of experience and don’t jump to give them less because they asked for less.

I’m not sure why that is, but I don’t think women are necessarily going to change. I wouldn’t say they don’t have the confidence to ask for more — they are confident — they just don’t go about asking for things the same way men do.

We can increase the number of women in engineering by reaching into schools and letting them know we exist and that it is a field that women can join.

How many years have you been active in the engineering sector? What’s changed the most in that time? What’s changed the least?

I have been in this industry for 30 years. The biggest change has been technology. I never did hand drawings, but I did hand markup and AutoCAD. I remember having to carry around floppy discs, so I could print out a set of drawings. With the change in technology also came the ever-increasing fast pace of our industry. Everything used to be phone calls and mail service, where now it's working on a model in real time.

It seems like school has not changed that much. The students are learning the same things I learned, which is great to get the basics. I think they should learn more about communication, research, problem-solving, and collaboration.

What drives/motivates you every day?

I feel like we are making a difference focusing on sustainable design, but I also feel like we are providing a place for our employees to build their careers.

What’s one thing no one knows about you?

My dad was in the U.S. Air Force, so I traveled around a lot. Science and math don’t change from country to country, so I realized it’s easier to go from school to school, understanding science and math. My senior year, I started a new school and had to take world history to graduate. It met at the same time as calculus, so I was bussed to a vocational school for calculus, which was combined with Fortran, and we received three engineering credits for it at the University of New Mexico. Without that Fortran experience, I don’t know if I would have really known what subject to major in. It kind of gave me something to carry — I had three credits and I liked it, so it helped.

But, even then, I went back and forth, wondering if I should really become an engineer. I didn't seem to fit in with other engineering students in my college. I do like math and science, but it was hard, too, and it wasn’t always clear I was on the right path. My counselor had me take a placement test, and I ranked about as far away from engineering as possible, basically indicating I should find a different major. But, I decided I liked it, so I stuck with it, and I’m really glad I did. I like what I’m doing and have always enjoyed my career.

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

I have had a few mentors and appreciate all of them. I have also learned from people whom I was mentoring. It is definitely a give-and-take. The one thing that stands out the most to me is that one of my mentors told me to look into the LEED program and become an expert at sustainable design. That was more than 20 years ago.

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

Do internships in college. That’s my biggest advice. If you are just interviewing for a job, you have no idea what you are getting into. If you go into an internship first, you can see for yourself if that’s what you want or possibly be introduced to something you hadn’t even considered before. It also gives your employer an opportunity to see if you will work as a full-time employee after you graduate. This past year, we had two interns who came in for the summer, and we’ve already offered both jobs after graduation — they can finish their senior years knowing they have a job. I think that’s important so they can focus on school and take electives that are more geared toward our industry.

One of these interns had completed two earlier internships. He was in the manufacturing industry and just didn’t like it. Someone told him to try a consulting engineering firm. He came to us and loved it because every day is different. He wasn’t bored, and he felt like he was always learning something. I understand where he was coming from. I seriously think I learn something every single day.

January 2023

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