Women Engineers at Hanford Guide Colleagues Toward Career Success

1 year ago

RICHLAND, Wash. – A group of women engineers with EM Office of River Protection (ORP) tank operations contractor Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) has established a series of monthly lunchtime presentations aimed at empowering and mentoring woman engineers.

“Engineering is a very competitive field,” said Elaine Porcaro, chief engineer for ORP Tank Farms Projects. “It is inspiring to see that these women have taken the initiative to establish a forum to support and promote each other, sharing their successes and key learnings in order to pave the way for other women to be successful.”

During the most recent virtual presentation, former Air Force Cpt. Bree Smith shared some things she has learned as a military leader and engineer at the Hanford Site.

Smith and her husband, Greg, started working for WRPS as engineers after wrapping up successful careers in the Air Force.

“In the military we were 100 percent equal,” Smith said when asked whether she felt she and her husband were treated equally in their similar roles at WRPS. “Here, we have had different opportunities, but only because we’re in different groups and management opportunities opened up for him before they did for me.”

Smith admits that it took her a little longer to vocalize her career goals.

“When I first started at WRPS I was working on the 242-A Evaporator,” she said. “It didn’t take me long to realize that I don’t like pipes and valves. It was a different type of engineering than I had trained for, and I was timid because I felt inadequate in the mechanical engineering realm.”

She dug in and was determined to learn everything she could about the facility that evaporates water from tank waste as well as tank operations. She was intentional about identifying her weaknesses, establishing a plan to overcome them, and then clarified her career goals for herself before sharing them with her manager and reaching out to other managers within WRPS.

“I had the opportunity to attend the Waste Management conference and met fellow WRPS engineers, and that’s when I learned about other aspects of engineering on the site that were more to my liking,” Smith said.

Smith now works in the engineering group for the waste feed delivery operations and planning group at WRPS. Her presentation as part of the monthly Women in Engineering Speaker Series outlined foundational elements women should consider while navigating their career paths:

  • Relationships: Establish workplace partnerships and mentorships with your co-workers and managers.
  • Engagement: Get involved in your company by volunteering for projects that may be outside of your normal scope or comfort zone.
  • Education and Growth: Be curious about other aspects of your project and other projects and departments; ask for feedback from all avenues and find ways to apply it.
  • Enthusiasm: Seek out responsibilities that will gain you experience and maturity; define your passions and correlate those to your professional goals.

Smith encourages women to be intentional about volunteering for leadership roles within their company. She also seeks out opportunities to reach out to others through programs like the Women in Engineering Speaker Series to provide encouragement to other engineers who are trying to navigate their own careers.

The speaker series, while led by and focusing on women engineers, is open to men and women in other career fields as well.

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