Female civil engineer and STEM advocate Dani Schroeder

Female Civil Engineer Dani on her Career and Being a STEM Advocate

Jacintha Verdegaal

The world needs more female civil engineers, or better said, more female engineers in general. Simple as that. Which is why we love the active women in engineering community on social media. Sharing their personal, empowering career stories and encouraging others to follow in their footsteps.

One of the first people that we as Tasker started following on Instagram is Dani Schroeder, or ‘Dani the Engineer’ as some of you may know her. She’s a civil engineer and a STEM advocate with her website and outreach activities. Time for an interview!

Let’s introduce you first! Can you tell us a bit about you and your engineering background?

Hi all! My name is Dani, and I am an Associate Bridge Engineer in Pennsylvania, USA. I currently work for a private consulting company in the transportation industry. In my role I focus on the reconstruction and rehabilitation of bridges and other transportation-related structures. I earned my BS and MS in Civil Engineering in 2017, so I have been working full time for almost four years now. 

What are some of the projects you’ve been working on?

What I love most about my job is that I have the opportunity to work on some amazing projects. I’ve been involved in the recently constructed retrofit plate design for the Burlington Bristol Bridge. And I am currently working on a project that will include a new 12-acre park which will cap a portion of a major highway.

What is it that you love about engineering?

Through my job, I focus on rehabilitating the physical structures of our past. And through my STEM education and outreach, I get to inspire the minds of our future. One of my dreams as an engineer is to become a project manager where I will be leading large scale infrastructure projects. As I am almost at four years of progressive engineering experience, I plan to take the PE exam soon.

You’ve been named one of ten ASCE New Faces of Civil Engineering 2021: congrats! What impact does this have on your career?

Thank you! Becoming one of ASCE’s New Faces of Civil Engineering has been awesome! I do not necessarily think it’s had an impact on my career, but I’ve definitely had many folks reach out congratulating me on this honor.

What advice do you have for people hoping to be ‘the new face’ in a couple of years?

My advice is to tell your story. And because this is an ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) award, make sure to mention how you are involved with ASCE. The application opens annually and is typically due in October/November.

You’re an advocate for STEM Outreach. What are you doing to inspire girls and women to pursue an engineering degree or career?

I have been involved with STEM outreach since 2012 when I started studying civil engineering. In 2019 I started tracking my hours of impact. I have dedicated approximately 140 hours to student outreach impact in 2019, 127 in 2020, and 85 hours in 2021 to date. 

These STEM outreach events don’t need to be super elaborate. For example the most recent ones I’ve done was calling into a classroom on Zoom. I read to them the book Rosie Revere, Engineer and then answered questions from the students about what it’s like to be a civil engineer. All it takes is one small spark to start a student’s interest in STEM! 

Tell us about your website STEM Changemaker. What made you decide to launch it?

In 2019 I started my blog and social media channels as Dani the engineer to make engineering a more accessible career to explore. I recently changed it to stemchangemaker.org to host both my blog as well as many other general STEM resources. With this platform I want to give local STEM outreach folks more resources to create their own events. Plus I hope it will help students and fellow early career professionals on their STEM success journey.

You’re a successful female civil engineer. What has been the biggest challenge for you to develop your career in a male dominated world?

I think the biggest challenge I’ve had to face is overcoming impostor syndrome. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the 475,000 Civil Engineers employed in 2019, only 14% identify as women. I frequently still find myself as the only woman on a team or in a meeting. The way I have learned to slowly overcome impostor syndrome and self-doubt is surrounding myself with a good support system. Those I have met through social media, especially fellow women in STEM, have helped me greatly!

What do you think is the most important thing that needs to change in order to get more women into engineering?

There are a lot of things that need to change, but the one I would like to focus on is the STEM outreach part. I personally did not learn what engineering was until my junior year of high school, and I don’t want that to happen to other students, especially young women. STEM outreach is important to show students as young as kindergarten that engineering is awesome and if you are passionate about it you can go into STEM.

As most of us, you’ve been working from home for the past year. Does remote working ‘work’ in civil engineering? And are you looking forward to going back to the office?

Yes, I have been working from home since March 2020. I personally have liked working from home but that may also be because I am an introvert. I do many of the same tasks at home that I would do in the office. Lots of quantities, calculations, and other things to bring my projects to fruition. In terms of the future of work for me, I think I would prefer a hybrid approach. Working some days from home but also go into the office for all group team meetings or other collaborative work.

At Tasker we offer engineers the opportunity to develop their skills by working on challenging tasks for different companies. What’s the most important thing you’re doing to continuously develop your skills and make sure you’re staying up to date with what the market needs?

First, I want to say that you are doing awesome work at Tasker! One of the most important things that I do to develop my skills is attend webinars relevant to my field. I’ve been tuning in for Bentley webinars, as MicroStation is the main computer aided design program I use. And I’ve been learning about standards or guidelines in terms of sustainability as we are always trying to incorporate sustainable design elements into our projects. I recently became an ‘envision sustainability professional’ – or ENV SP – so that I could be better certified in terms of sustainability and the infrastructure projects that I work on. 

Also I think my social media and blog have helped me learn about marketing and the importance of a personal brand. 

Final question: you’re clearly doing a lot of different things at the same time, pursuing different interests and passions. What’s your secret to making this work?

I do not have a particular secret to what I do. It is really that I put effort into the things that I am passionate about like STEM outreach. Work is supportive of my efforts, but it involves communication. Especially when STEM outreach events are during typical work hours.  Paired with communication is being organized. I make sure that any event that I say yes to I immediately put in my calendar so that I do not overbook myself. And I schedule self-care days when I don’t do anything other than relax. 

Thanks so much Dani for taking the time to share your story as a female civil engineer and STEM advocate with us. If you’d like to know more about Dani and the work she’s doing, make sure to check out her website STEM Changemaker or follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

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