Michigan’s next ROCKstar…Geotechnical Engineer Edition
July 16th is a busy day in History...
1790 Congress declares Washington, D.C. the new capital 📍
1945 The first atomic bomb test is successfully exploded 🧨
1969 Apollo 11 leaves Earth to land on the Moon 🚀🌑
1995 Amazon opens for business 📦
1999 JFK Jr. killed in plane crash 💔
2021 Bethany Kelly breaks the internet with as a Biotechnical Engineer 👩🔬
Welcome to Pursuit of STEM, an interview series for Every Women in Tech blog.
Author: Amy Gritzinger
Whether you’re just starting out in your engineering career, midway through, or looking for an industry change, this series will shine a light on colleagues with various perspectives. Girls in K-12 are watching and it’s not too soon to get them interested in STEM education! From here, we can provide support and resources at the collegiate level, then eventual career pathways. My mission is to impact young girl and inspire them to take more STEM classes. This article series will focus on issues women engineers face getting into the field and areas where improvements can be made to retain women. The interviewees bring their own personal experiences, opinions, and hopes for what’s to come.
Meet Bethany Kelly, Geotechnical Engineer at Barr Engineering Co, where her primary focus is assisting with investigation, design, construction, and rehabilitation of dams for clients in the power & mining industries. She served as Chair on the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME) subsection board. Most recently and perhaps importantly, she participated in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE)- Detroit Happy Hour Zoom where we met. I’m looking forward to more face-to-face conversations with her and this chapter SOON!
Q: What motivated you to go into STEM as a career?
Bethany: I credit my high school physics teacher, Mr. Giese! He treated us like adults in his classroom – we got to decide what modules to complete and when, and how many we did per semester dictated our grade. Each module had a lab experiment with analysis. At the end of the year, he recommended me for a Women in Engineering summer camp up at Michigan Tech and I walked out of that week knowing I was going into Civil Engineering. The scale of projects and the way that civil engineering touches everyone’s lives in a million ways that most people don’t recognize drew me to civil, along with a desire for time in the field. 😊
Q: What skills do you recommend for females at the beginning of their careers in STEM journey?
Bethany: Work your communication skills, ladies! This is my recommendation to just about every engineer; they might not always come naturally to us, but communication skills are invaluable. You can’t be all that successful in a STEM field without being able to clearly tell others what you’re doing and why it’s valuable, so make sure that you’re pushing yourself to develop those skills – offer to work on the first draft of the memo or email for the client, or present those results to the team and practice!
Q: How do handle situations when a colleague is being culturally insensitive, sexist, racist, or homophobic?
Bethany: Thankfully, I don’t have to deal with this much in my workspace, but I like to shut it down by saying “That’s not how we work here.” But we really need to get to know and rely on our HR experts to help us with those situations; it’s too easy for people to brush it aside and allow it to keep happening. Patterns need to be raised up and addressed quickly to make sure that everyone recognizes inappropriate behavior and that people are accountable for it. I had an intern who was being harassed by a subcontractor and found out about it through the grapevine, but made sure the source went to HR. The sub appreciated being made aware of it and was quick to act and get their staff some additional training.
Q: Many people imagine engineers at a desk making math calculations all day. What are the biggest misconceptions people have about your job?
Bethany: Well, along those lines, I think a major misconception is that writing isn’t important, that we are just human calculators – I don’t think any professional has a good concept of how much writing they’ll do in their lifetime! My desk time is mostly spent on reports and analysis, but I also get to spend a nice amount of time at project sites wearing my steel toes.
Q: Are there any women at your company in executive level roles? If not, then how can the culture be improved thus seeing more Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) on the team?
Bethany: We’re getting there! The chair of our board is a woman and we’ve got women on our Management Team, but we still need to “age up” a bit to have enough senior women to finally fill these roles at the same ratios that we’re seeing in our graduates. Barr has a D&I group that does work to identify and improve issues and celebrate DEI, but it’s a journey.
Q: How can companies improve the retention rate of women in engineering? What is it like to be a woman in Engineering? Do you feel that your gender gives you a different perspective and experience from your male counterparts? Any advantages?
Bethany: I think enhanced flexibility from employers is critical, as we have so many dual career couples these days, though anything you say about childcare can easily be translated to people taking care of other loved ones or dealing with personal issues. Working caretakers have a lot on their plate and allowing staff to work from home more, retain benefits at reduced base hours, and providing leave time goes a long way to easing the burdens that life throws at a family.
Q: Are you involved in any social groups or professional societies supporting your career?
Bethany: I’ve been involved in several professional organizations, which is such a great way to get exposed to more thing and expand your network. Some conferences end up feeling like summer camps then, where you get reunited with old friends that you see once or twice a year. That sort of involvement creates a lot of serendipity that can end up giving professional or personal opportunities years or decades later!
Q: How do you achieve a work/life balance?
Bethany: Just like with DEI, WLB is not an achievement, it’s an active goal every day and every week! I think we all need to develop a better mindset to actively work towards balance with every step, recognizing when you can do more and when you need to cut back will change constantly because at the end of the day, we have no control.
Q: What’s next for your career?
Bethany: I just moved to Barr’s Ann Arbor office to be closer to my family, returning to Michigan after about 18 years away for school and work. As we adjust to life after a major move and fixing up our fixer-upper (the only way we could buy a house in 2021), I’ll be looking to improve my understanding of Michigan’s geology and the needs of our region.
Thanks for reading and stop in for more content for women & girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)