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Engineering: More than Math and Science

March 1, 2016

Meet Julie Olson

I am a female engineer in a male-dominated industry. As females, we are under-represented in the field and I would be excited to see that change. We can all start by changing the way we talk about engineering and other STEM-related fields.


When people describe an engineer’s job, they tend to describe a career comprised solely of math and science, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, much of the work I do as an engineer uses math and science skills I’ve acquired through schooling and on-the-job experience. But if the conversation stops there, you miss the most compelling parts of my job — creativity, problem-solving and a real-world, tangible impact on the community around me. These are the parts of my job that spoke to me when I chose this career path and that I believe will speak to bright young females who are considering theirs.


There is a critical need to change the dialogue around the engineering profession. Studies have found that girls believe a career in engineering will only include math and science skills. They want more. Girls want a career that draws on their strong math and science skills, but also allows them to be creative and make a difference in their communities. Unfortunately, that isn’t how we talk about engineering, which, I believe, is a significant part of the reason that women make up only 11% of practicing engineers.


What attracted me to the field of engineering, and what continues to make my profession fulfilling, is the fact that every day when I go to work, I get to be creative, I get to problem-solve and I get to positively impact my community. I believe it is these qualities that we need to make clear to students who are considering their future schooling and career paths — especially girls.


As an engineer, I get to be a problem solver. Yes, those problems may involve complex figures and calculations, but, more often than not, they include solving real-life problems for real-life people. For example, as an engineer at GRAEF, I have had the opportunity to play a role in designing the reconstruction of a major roadway in the City of Waukesha, E. Moreland Blvd. The project included re-designing a five-legged intersection that contained a high-rate of traffic accidents into a four-legged intersection, all while maintaining access to local businesses and residents. That’s more than “just math and science,” if you ask me.


Being an engineer is challenging and extremely rewarding, and I believe men and women are equally qualified to find success in the profession.


It is my hope that my female colleagues and I can be role models for the next generation of female engineers. I hope that, over time, I will see more female engineers at the table — at GRAEF, and throughout the industry.


Julie Olson is an engineer at GRAEF, a Milwaukee-based engineering, planning and design firm. She received her degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.