Since her teenage years, Emily Haelsig knew she wanted to explore a career as an engineer – a pioneer of progress who helps shape the world we live in.
Haelsig is not only fulfilling her dream as a support engineer for PPL Electric Utilities, she’s also mentoring tomorrow’s engineers through a program designed to encourage high school students to pursue careers in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math.
For International Women in Engineering Day (June 23), we caught up with Haelsig to learn more about what drove her to a career in engineering, how she’s enjoying her career and how she’s inspiring the next generation of female engineers.
Q: Hi Emily, tell us about your role here at PPL and what your job entails.
A: I am a support engineer for the Lehigh Relay Test department. My position is a field engineering role where I get to work alongside substation field crews to test new and existing protective and communication equipment.
Q: This year’s theme for International Women in Engineering Day is “shape the world.” In what ways do you believe your role here at PPL helps you shape the world?
A: My role at PPL is very technical, which really challenges me. But the opportunities outside of my engineering role really allow me to make a bigger impact. I volunteer often in the community both through PPL and on my own. Having a strong technical background gives me the confidence to stand in front of a group of curious kids and answer their questions to the best of my ability.
Q: Speaking of that impact, I understand you’re helping to mentor the next generation of engineers through the Exploring program at the Allentown Area School District. Tell us about that program.
A: PPL’s Exploring program partners with Boy Scouts of America to bring an after-school program to William Allen High School and Building 21 High School in the Allentown Area School District. The program is focused on engineering disciplines. Every month, the team comes up with a short lesson and an activity that demonstrates a different area of engineering, from civil to chemical. The kids learn how versatile engineering really can be.
Q: Is it rewarding working with young minds interested in engineering?
A: It is very rewarding. Even outside of Exploring, I have had the chance to work on STEM activities with kids of all ages and it really never gets old. To have them get excited about the outcome of an engineering-based project or ask questions about the power grid that most adults might not even consider is really exciting. We get the opportunity to show them that engineering and math is much more practical and useful than what they might assume because of how it is sometimes taught in school.
Q: There are far fewer female engineers in the workplace than men. How can we as a society encourage more female engineers?
A: I think workplaces need to make it a more welcoming environment. It can be very intimidating to be the only female in a class or on a team, especially if not everyone is supportive. I have heard horror stories about women in engineering fields not being taken seriously, but I have been lucky enough not to experience anything like that here at PPL. I think it has a lot to do with culture, so companies need to have a culture that is inclusive to everyone and that will bring more females into engineering.
Q: How is PPL helping to keep female engineers in the field?
A: Through showing support. I worked in the General Office (in downtown Allentown) for a little over two years, but knew I wanted to be out with Relay Test because that was my first introduction to the company as an intern. A position opened in our Lehigh region and I was fortunate enough to be considered and accepted into the position. I have been in the field for about nine months now, and although I knew most of the team from my internship, they welcomed me immediately. I was not treated any differently for being a female and that is what will keep me in the field.
Q: How did you become interested in engineering?
A: I knew in high school that I wanted to do something that was heavy in problem solving and mathematics, so engineering made sense. Further, electrical engineering was one of the more mathematics-based engineering disciplines, so I tried that out my freshman year and stuck with it. It was a pretty calculated decision.
Q: What is your engineering educational background?
A: I have an Electrical Engineering degree with a minor in Mechanical Engineering from Widener University. Currently, I am also pursuing my MBA through Desales University.
Q: Why do you think International Women in Engineering Day is important to celebrate?
A: Roughly 8 to 15% of engineers are women, depending on what discipline you look at. Electrical Engineering is around 8%. It is important to celebrate Women in Engineering Day to remind all the women in engineering of their accomplishments and give them the recognition they deserve. It also serves to remind young women and girls that they can be what they want to be, and shouldn’t have any limitations in their career path just because they are women.