Celebrating Women in Leadership: Stefanie English, PE

What were the circumstances when you first had an inkling that you might become a leader someday?

As a kid, I was pretty shy and self-conscious, especially in new situations. I never really pictured myself as a leader.  As I got more confident in whatever activity I was doing, I’d often get impatient and be driven to get it done.  If it was a puzzle or problem to be solved, I liked to “win.”  But as problems got more complex, I realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t continue to do that on my own, and I needed a team to help.  And that impatience still follows me today. I tend to assert myself and be candid. In a team situation, if a group seems to be caught in a circular discussion, I am known to jump in and say, “OK, let’s make a decision and move on to the next issue.”

What inspires you as a leader? What do you enjoy most about the role?

 I really enjoy seeing the people on my team succeed.  I am surrounded by so many talented individuals, and it gives me joy to share in their professional development and growth.  It’s the best feeling when they’re recognized for the good work they do and feel that maybe I’ve helped to influence that.

My team has been doing the structural design for a hospital expansion project. Due to an accelerated project schedule and long lead times expected for the steel fabrication package, the structural design had to precede final Architectural and MEP designs, and the foundation package was scheduled to be submitted ahead of the rest of the structural set. This required not only the design team for that project assignment to hit their internal milestones, but it affected the rest of the team because the volume of work demanded that they be unavailable to work on other projects. I’m incredibly proud of how the entire department pitched in to take on this challenge and meet our obligations for the hospital client as well as our other clients during this period.

Who has been your greatest inspiration and/or mentor?

I can’t say that I’ve had any single mentor or inspiration.  Some of the most important influencers for me have been:

My brother – I always wanted to do what he was doing. So, I joined the TSA (Technology Student Association) in middle school and competed in a bunch of different engineering related challenges. I blame him for my career choice.

My grandmother – She had a great positive attitude and always seemed so composed in the face of adversity. Until she was 80, she drove a full-sized pickup truck with oversized mudflaps that said, “Keep on Truckin’,” and that’s just what she always did.

My first boss – who during my interview said he didn’t want to have to babysit me. To be honest, that made me mad, but you can bet that I worked hard to prove he didn’t need to be a babysitter.

My son – who inspires me to strive to be a better person, not just for the obvious reasons, but also because he’s perceptive and will call me out if I bring work stress home. After a particularly difficult week I found a post-it note from him in my bag where he wrote, “Don’t get grumpy.”  I keep that taped to my computer monitor as a reminder.

What are some of the most significant obstacles you’ve overcome in your career? How did you accomplish this?

I’ve been fortunate in the sense that I feel like I’ve had great support.  Early on, of course, I dealt with the normal doubts from more experienced contractors or colleagues that a young female engineer knew what she was doing. And they were right – in the way that no young engineer straight from university knows what they are doing! The obstacle that has been the most difficult is overcoming self-doubt.  And to be perfectly candid, this is something that I continue to work on, even as I’ve developed solid engineering and leadership skills.  I can be hardest on myself sometimes.  I think it’s important to remember that nobody has all the answers, and that to some extent, we’re all working this “life” thing out as we go along.

As a working mother, what values, techniques, or support systems have you used to achieve balance?

“Balance” needs to be put in perspective. Some might even call it a myth – most moms who work outside the home will admit to a fair amount of guilt about not “being there” enough for their families. I’ve had to accept that each day won’t be perfectly balanced but hope that in the long run I can keep my schedule, time, and attention focused in a way that is true to my values.  I have a wonderful husband and partner who is supportive and understanding and who also lets me know when I’ve gotten too distracted.  It also helps that he’s a great cook and works a schedule that allows him to be involved with after school activities with our son and prepare dinner we can have together as a family nearly every night!  Food has always been a central part of my family’s celebrations, from planning and preparing to the conversation and satisfied wind-down afterward, so this is an important part of my day. Dinnertime is really our intimate time to re-connect. It gives us a chance to “be there” for a few minutes, talk about the day, and figure out our how we’re going to tackle the next one.

You volunteer a lot of time with the Boy Scouts. Why is community stewardship important to you?

I spend some time with my son’s Boy Scouts troop when I can, and I was honored to help a large group of them earn their Engineering Merit Badge recently.  I’m also an active member in my church. I believe it is a person’s responsibility to share their gifts with those in need and argue that it’s a civic obligation to enhance the community in which you live.  I believe that strong communities raise their children to be productive, responsible, and compassionate adults. The world is a hard, sometimes unforgiving place.  It’s easy to say, “It’s not my job.”  If each person in a community considered themselves the steward of it, can you imagine what effect that might have?

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