Text, Font
Material property, Font

Marie VanderVliet

Facial expression, Nose, Smile, Cheek, Lip, Chin, Eyebrow, Eyelash, Neck, Jaw

Name/Title/Company: Marie VanderVliet, outside sales engineer, mechanical products, Norman S Wright

Age: 29

Educational Experience: Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, University of Utah

Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: ASHRAE 2022-2025 Region IX Young Engineers in ASHARE (YEA) Regional Vice Chair (RVC), ASHRAE 2021 YEA Award of Individual Excellence, Daikin Fall 2021 GET Program – first in class, Utah Engineering Council 2020 Fresh Face of Engineering

What does your day-to-day job entail?

In my role as an outside sales engineer, I engage in a variety of customer interactions and oversee an internal team. This involves maintaining relationships; developing and presenting training material; and helping engineers with their design needs, including product selections. Each day always brings something new. Some days, I’m immersed in the small details with my focus fixed on my computer screen, while other days I’m constantly on the move, often not even setting foot in my office. As a manager, I want to ensure my team feels adequate moving forward in any task handed to them, and, if not, that I am an open resource for them to consult with any questions. And, then, as an added bonus, I also get to travel to manufacturing facilities and attend training, customer events, and other ASHRAE meetings throughout the year.

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

In school, I always gravitated toward math and science classes. I think I found comfort in final answers and the certainty that two plus two would always equal four. But I also had this deep appreciation for the arts and expression and really enjoyed finding intentional connections. Now, those are two very different concepts, and finding something where I could venture down both of those paths was (and still is) challenging. Fortunately, I found engineering through the guidance of many growing up. The day-to-day tasks of engineering provided me with a satisfying “answer.” I was always happy to be given a puzzle and to solve a problem, but I still needed that outlet of creativity and connection. That’s where my current sales roles as well as my ASHRAE YEA RVC role has really started to nurture that “love.”

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

The most rewarding part of my career is helping others. Most often, that is done through training or teaching, whether it’s in a classroom setting or just one on one over the phone. One particularly special moment was facilitating my first YEA Leadership Weekend. I was able to work with engineers from around the world at this two-day event in Miami. The event was truly transformative for both the attendees and myself. It was amazing getting to watch the growth of these individuals, each at their own pace, with their own revelations, in just 48 hours. Each of these little moments would lead into a discussion that became bigger than just “HVAC” or “engineering,” yet, somehow, could always be brought back to our industry or workplace.

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?

My reference is only to the HVAC and engineering industry, but I'm sure there is a similarity amongst all male-dominated industries. I have two predominant challenges that I encounter on a daily basis.

There is a generalized gender given in sentences and descriptions to describe an engineer or contractor as male. This leads to gender-based stereotypes that can create an imbalance of representation. It's a linguistic battle I continue to fight to remind everyone that we need to be more inclusive and aware of others in our language

Additionally, there is a significant lack of women and diversity within leadership roles as compared to (white) men. Leadership roles should be based on the qualities and skills of an individual rather than gender, charisma, or overconfidence. Promoting diversity in leadership is not just about giving positions to women, it's about recognizing and nurturing the potential in all individuals. Chapters 1 and 2 of Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic book “Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders and How to Fix It,” which I highly suggest, puts it into better context than I could ever summarize.

In addition, I'd like to utilize this platform to urge the importance of calling out and speaking up for women. Whether it’s a coworker making a pass-by “joke,” a cliche assumption made within a meeting, or a blatant double-standard that most people tend to stay silent through, say something. Remember that no action is an action, and, most often, saying nothing is what hurts women, and any minority within any workplace, the most.

I see numerous ways of increasing the number of women in engineering. The first would be to reach out to K-12 and STEM events to create awareness and opportunities for women in engineering. Next would be to create networking groups for women already within the industry. I think ASHRAE, as a society, is a great platform for women to get more involved. I hope that model can continue to be pushed down on a chapter level. Another would be to promote the visibility of women in this profession and to create more initiatives around highlighting successful women engineers so they can serve as role models to others. And, lastly, we must continue to commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs.

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

It’s been nine years since I first entered this industry, starting with an internship in 2015. I began my full-time career in 2017. Honestly, those first few years were stagnant. I didn’t see much change, but that also could be because I was too busy trying to learn the ropes myself. But COVID-19 changed a lot for the industry; it prompted big shifts and adaptations to be made, like remote work and how we hold meetings, and also becoming a little less rigid in nature and becoming more approachable.

What has changed the least, in my eyes, is marketing. Mainly, how information is being shared to engineers already within the field. I do think, as an industry, we are improving a lot in marketing programs, like STEM and ASHRAE, but I’m seeing a lag as we start to move more into that day-to-day process. It would be beneficial for all manufacturers, consulting firms, and rep firms to hire a marketing team that consists of an art director and a mechanical engineer. This team could focus on two things: streamlining how accessible information is able to get to end users and making those items both accurate and aesthetically pleasing to look at.

You’re an active member of ASHRAE, serving as a regional officer as well as the Young Engineers in ASHRAE committee. Tell us about your involvement and the importance that association has had on your career.

ASHRAE is really good at fostering connections and providing opportunities, which go hand and hand with my core values and passions! Now, granted, I have only ever been in the YEA position both on a chapter and regional level, so I will admit, I may have an extremely biased view here. But, I think YEA is given the most flexibility, and we have fun with it! The mentors I’ve found in ASHRAE, and the programs YEA hosts, have inspired me to unfathomable amounts within my day-to-day role. From items as large as how to host grand events to as small as what's a fun icebreaker to kick off this meeting, a lot of my inspiration stems from ASHRAE and my YEA roles. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities and knowledge I have gained through this association.

You lead the committee book club discussions. Tell us about the greatest takeaways from this endeavor and the influence it’s had on you and your peers.

A lot of my inspiration behind the structure of my book club has been from two things: Ralph Kison’s facilitation of YEA Leadership Weekends and the book “Applied Empathy” by Michael Ventura. I've been so pleasantly surprised with how much I adore this book club. It primarily consists of other YEA past and current RVCs, which I think helps the conversations carry to such great places, because we come from very similar backgrounds of engineering practice but also appreciate self-reflection and growth. As a result, our conversations often dive into these profound and insightful territories, and we provide a space for one another to become vulnerable and to hear other perspectives. It has been, really, the coolest and highest honor hosting this book club.

What drives/motivates you every day?

I try my best to balance the motivation of wanting to provide for others as well as wanting to provide myself the best lifestyle I can. Ultimately, I do what I do because I like helping and teaching others. I think that is something I need to have within my daily work tasks in order for me to feel fulfilled. But, another motivation factor is that I want to have enough flexibility and security within my workplace so I can venture into my other hobbies and passions. I’m still curating, and probably always will be curating, what that balance looks like, but I do think it tends to be a win-win model for me to follow. By being a value to my employers and customers, I can set boundaries that allow me to maintain a fulfilling work-life balance while also making a positive impact on others.

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

I want to help change the expectations of the workforce in many ways. What does an engineer look like? What do they do? How do they need to act? Dress? Speak? What training programs can we create to help others learn in different ways other than just “read the manual and figure it out?” How can marketing improve not just internally or for my customers, but what can be done to externally change the status quo?

This is an ambitious goal that doesn't necessarily have a fixed end date or clear finish line. I understand the industry and expectations will always change with new generations coming in; however, maybe one day, I’ll be able to look back and reflect on these ambitions and see them as instrumental in transforming the engineering profession.

What’s one thing no one knows about you?

I am an open book and do not hide many things about myself. But, my go-to fun fact is that I’m able to lick my elbow!

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

I wouldn’t be where I am professionally in my career today without Joe Touhuni. He was my connection point to this industry, my current job, and my involvement with ASHRAE. He has shown me that authenticity and staying true to oneself is the key to achieving genuine success. He also has always believed in my potential and has pushed my comfort levels to always make sure I’m challenging myself to continue evolving.

Ralph Kison was the catalyst to my personal growth and leadership development while attending the YEA Leadership Weekend 1.0 in 2019. His facilitation really sparked this inner flame to work on discovering my unique leadership style and to be comfortable with the idea that my leadership style may not look like the traditional archetype. Fun fact: that was also the event that inspired me to become a YEA RVC.

Recently, within the YEA RVC role, Madison Schultz and Elise Kiland have both been incredible mentors and leaders. During the 2022-2023 ASHRAE year, Schultz was the society YEA committee chair, and, within the committee, Elise was the personal development chair. They are always so supportive, taking me under their wings, answering all of my questions, and making sure I have all the tools need to be successful. They’ve shown me the importance of not only admiring leaders for their achievements but also for how they treat and mentor others. I hope to continue on in their legacies for upholding a welcoming space for women to learn and grow within the industry.

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

Trust your instincts. Trust your intuition. Don’t ever think you need to change who you are or your style to try to “fit” into what is expected. Express your boundaries and don’t be scared to speak up for the accommodation you know works best for you.

Text, Font

January 2024