If things had been different for Katrina Hagan, she might have pursued an entirely different career path. “I probably would have been a teacher,” she says. Or an accountant. “But I like being able to touch things and build things,” she says, “and I probably would have been really bored. ”
Instead, the Civil and Environmental Engineering Technology student had female role models at home, in high school, and at Vermont Tech who told her it was ok to pursue her passions.
“My whole family is pretty math solid,” said the 22-year-old from North Concord, Vermont. “My parents never once told me I couldn’t do it. Had they said ‘This is probably not for you,’ it would have been different.” Once in high school, Katrina’s female math teacher encouraged her aptitude for numbers and problem solving, but underlying societal messages about appropriate careers for women were still strong.
“It took me a long time to go into engineering,” Katrina said. “Those kinds of fields weren’t marketed to me when I was in high school. I had to explore it on my own, instead of getting support from the high school. I had to learn for myself that it’s ok to step out of the box.”
Katrina will graduate from Vermont Tech with an Associate Degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering Technology in the spring of 2017. She already has a job with GPI, an engineering and construction management group that consults with the Vermont Agency of Transportation. She says she feels very fortunate that she has not experienced discrimination in the workforce, and she’s found a role model in one of AOT’s project managers. “She’s doing really big things,” says Katrina. “I want to be like her.”
Still, she’s prepared for some resistance. “Being a minority in the field, it’s a lot harder to prove yourself and to get the guys to see you as an equivalent.” She wonders what it will be like when she wants to advance in her field. “If I was to move up, I worry about having the men not take me seriously. “
Katrina’s experience at Vermont Tech should prepare her for that day. “People frequently ask what it’s like to be one of the only women in the classroom,” she says. “It’s not awkward after awhile. The guys take me seriously. Once I got to know them, once I stopped being the stranger, things got much more normal.”
That wasn’t what she found at her original school in Maine, so she transferred to Vermont Tech where classes are both personal and practical. “A lot of courses have hands-on experience, so people getting out of school have a lot of experience. There’s a lot of lab work,” she says. She’s also happy with the teaching staff she’s encountered at Vermont Tech. “They are absolutely wonderful,” she says. “ I’ve never had more supportive teachers. They’re always there to answer a question about homework or help you figure out which classes to take. They make it so that everyone is engaged.”
Katrina counts Professor Mary O’Leary as one of her three closest colleagues at Vermont Tech (“She’s a teacher, but I would really call her a friend”). Another female friend is also studying civil engineering, but the two spend little time focusing on what it’s like to enter a male-dominated field. “We don’t really need to talk about it,” Katrina says. “We know.”
Katrina now works as a consultant for VTrans in the materials lab. She is happy for this opportunity saying: “VTrans allowed me to work part-time in the Materials Lab while I went to school, and hired me full time officially even before graduation. I think that being a student at Vermont Tech definitely made me a good candidate, as many of my coworkers have degrees from there.”
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