Women in Power: Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day
Jun 23, 2022
Today, we celebrate International Women in Engineering Day. Every year since 2014, the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) calls attention to and encourages more women to enter the field of engineering. Here at Resource Innovations, our engineers are a very important part of our work with energy programs and grid management.
On International Women in Engineering Day, we’d like to introduce Anna Walker. Since 2021, Anna has been part of Resource Innovations’ team of innovative female engineers, breaking boundaries in the industry and increasing access to energy saving solutions for customers and communities across the U.S. and Canada. In her role as an engineer/project coordinator, Anna connects customers to no-cost or low-cost measures to improve building efficiency through retro-commissioning (RCx). She manages the project life cycle and participates in technical reviews of energy savings calculations, as well as communicates the program’s benefits to schools, places of worship, data centers, office buildings, and other commercial customers. She enjoys making it easier for our clients to understand the energy-saving opportunities available to them and in turn, helping the environment by reducing energy and emissions.
As a young girl, Anna had an affinity for math and science, as well as a strong connection to the outdoors. In high school she learned about engineering and was confident that it was something she would be good at. In 2005, Anna witnessed the effects of an environmental devastation that laid the foundation for her career path. Hurricane Katrina caused massive flooding, shortages of food and potable water, and left many of the residents with little access to shelter and other necessities. Anna’s family had volunteered many times over the years and did not hesitate to join in the relief efforts. They spent their spring break driving 900 miles south from their home in Chicago to Mississippi. There, she saw the devastation to the community, the environment, and the people. It’s where she first witnessed and realized that the people most affected by climate change have the fewest resources. This realization had a profound effect and led her to a personal commitment to focus on making a greater impact through her career.
With this goal in mind, Anna went to college and majored in engineering. She attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she studied agricultural and biological engineering and renewable energy systems. She also spent a summer as a college camp counselor encouraging middle school-aged girls to explore their interests in STEM. The curriculum of math, science, and physics was intense at times, but she didn’t let that, or the fact that fewer women were in the program, intimidate her and stop her from following her dreams.
While Anna is surrounded by many fellow female engineers helping Resource Innovations break boundaries today, both the energy industry and the engineering field are disproportionately filled by male professionals. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), despite making up 48% of global labor force, women only account for 22% in the traditional energy sector. And a 2019 report from the United States Census Bureau states female engineers represent only 13% of the total engineering workforce.
Female engineers like Anna are making a profound impact in communities around the world. Most recently, Anna worked on a retro-commissioning project for a suburban Chicago high school. Anna worked with a team and found ways to optimize the high school's controls, HVAC, and lighting to maximize energy efficiency and cost savings. The energy efficiency enhancements are projected to save the high school 343,683 kWh and 10,993 therms per year, or about $41,404 in energy costs annually. This translates to 18.21% of baseline energy use saved annually. These upgrades not only improve student comfort and safety, but the savings can now be applied to support other needs at the school, such as expanding investments in student programming, supplies, technology upgrades, and staffing. Rewarding experiences like this drive Anna to continue to grow her engineering career and lead the way for aspiring female engineers to join her in the field.
Including gender norms, many people have other misconceptions about engineers. Many assume that engineers are always working in a highly technical environment and constantly behind a desk punching numbers, with few opportunities to connect with people. But as Anna discovered, “engineering is a lot more than the technical aspects of the job. A career in engineering doesn’t sacrifice communication or people skills. Yes, it is important to be able to understand the technical aspects of the job, but you need to be able to communicate those clearly. I found that a career in engineering really is an exercise in communication.”
Anna was fortunate; she had opportunities that allowed her to envision a non-traditional future – one that was not defined by cultural norms. Unfortunately, not all women have this same experience. It’s important that we work together to intentionally support more women with opportunities to enter STEM and trade careers and allow them to aspire to be anything. As Henry David Thoreau said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.”
About Anna Walker
Anna Walker is an Engineer/Project Coordinator in Resource Innovation’s Chicago, IL office. She is an experienced project facilitator who engages mid-size to large utility customers to help them understand their opportunities to reduce energy consumption. Anna has worked on the Retro-commissioning program for ComEd and has experience conducting on-site inspections for projects in commercial and public sector facilities. Anna has a B.S. in Agricultural and Biological Engineering, specializing in renewable energy from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.