girl day in engineering

National Engineers Week — Girls Day

In recognition of Girl Day this Engineering Week, J2 Engineers sat down with Associate Lorainne Barksdale, PE, CFM, to learn why she became an engineer and what she thinks women bring to the engineering field.

J2: We first asked Lorainne, when did you know you wanted to be an engineer?

Lorainne: “I fell into the field. When I was a senior in high school, deciding what I wanted to be, a friend pointed out that I was good in math and science and that I should pick a profession to make a change. He thought civil engineering was varied enough that I would be able to find my niche. So I gave it a go!”

J2: What led to your decision to join the engineering field you are in now?

Lorainne: “I obtained a general civil engineering degree from the University of Puerto Rico. The program is ABET-accredited. I was able to study transportation, geotechnical, foundation design, structural design, and water resources within a five-year program. When I graduated, I pursued transportation for six years and then six years in water resources.

I came back to transportation because I enjoy managing the different moving parts of a project. When you are a roadway engineer, you have opportunities to become the project lead/project manager. I find a lot of satisfaction in rounding the herd, teaching people, staying on top of things, paying attention to the many simultaneous aspects of the project, and seeing the final built result.”

J2: In your day-to-day work, how do you help others?

Lorainne: “I make a conscious effort — no matter how busy or rushed I am — to always make a conversation with a younger engineer a fruitful one. I’m not just telling them what to do. I’m giving them the ‘why’ so they feel comfortable doing things. Understanding is much more important than executing because it nurtures an inquisitive mind and fosters motivation for that person to do things the right way and learn more.”

J2: Do you have opportunities to mentor others?

Lorainne: “Being a mentor is my main goal when engaging with younger engineers, not just tasking them with work. Anybody that I am working with, I like to impact them in a mentorship-like way. I like to help people, share knowledge, and participate in the team environment. It is a part of who I am and how I work.”

Alexa Adkins, Project Engineer and EIT at J2, works with Lorainne and considers her a mentor. “Lorainne remembers what it is like as an entry-level engineer and took me under her wing. She shares her knowledge and skills to help me advance in my professional development. I am beyond appreciative of her and the guidance she continues to give me.”

Lorainne continues, “Mentorship is a wonderful tool to have in any profession. At each firm I’ve worked for, I’ve had one to two mentors to go to with questions and opinions. I recommend for all engineers to seek out a mentor.”

J2: What is it like to be a woman engineer at J2?

Lorainne: “Currently, I am the only female in senior management, and this is something we are looking to grow. The environment here at J2 is very accommodating and welcoming to females in the industry. This is one of the reasons why I felt comfortable coming onboard to J2. There are no unknown biases … this is important to me.”

J2: What piece of advice would you give a younger version of yourself?

Lorainne: “Ask questions. Don’t walk away from a conversation that you don’t understand without asking questions, following up with a mentor, or circling back with the person. It’s important to ask the hard questions, especially early on in your career. The first couple of years, you’re learning. Graduating with an engineering degree is not a ticket to ‘you know it all.’ Surround yourself with people that want to learn as much as you do. Find a good mentor. It’s not about happening on a mentor … make it happen.”

Lorainne further emphasizes, “I learn something new every day. You can never stop learning if you are a good engineer … the more you learn and the harder you work, the better your work ethic. That will take you far in this field.”

J2: Why should girls consider engineering as a career?

“Empathy helps women succeed in engineering. To be a great leader, you have to be empathetic, and it’s an innate characteristic for many women to see things from other perspectives. Also, traditional past roles that females held in society as caretakers and mothers parallel what you can do in engineering. We do well in compartmentalizing certain tasks, delegating, seeing the bigger picture, and keeping the boat (project) afloat.”

J2: In 10 years, where do you see women in the engineering field?

“I have seen a good shift in female leadership within engineering. I also see more participation in women in the field. We do have a long way to go, though, to see equal representation in the industry. I see this progressing, but not as fast as I would like. We will continue seeing females being more engaged in engineering and leadership roles.”

Lorainne is an Associate at J2, joining in 2020. Her 15 years of design experience includes specialization in roadway design and water resources. She’s led various transportation projects throughout the Northern Virginia region for different public sector clients, including state DOT’s, counties, and local municipalities.

“Lorainne’s vision, experience, and ability to guide younger engineers are only a few of the many reasons why she is a tremendous leader,” shares J2 principal Jim Bishoff. “Lorainne is a vital member of the J2 senior management team.”

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