Oct 12, 2020

Women in Water: The Importance of Mentorships

This article originally appeared in October 2020 issue as "The Importance of Mentorships"

Kristen Darby

Kristin Darby, EIT CPESC, is a storm water engineer at Grenier Engineering, PC in Waterbury, Vermont. Her job includes storm water design and management for residential and commercial clients. She spoke with SWS Managing Editor Katie Johns about being a woman in the industry, how she got here and her goals.

Katie Johns: How did you start your career?

Kristin Darby: Since I was young, I wanted a career where I was going to make a difference, and I did not really know what that meant for a long time.  I thought I was going to be a marine biologist. I had always been math and science oriented and very logical, but when I realized that biology was not one of my strengths, and I was looking for something that resonated with me. My dad is an engineer as well. He kind of pushed me on this path a little bit. Reading about more engineering majors, I was realizing  I could see myself doing it and more of my strengths would be used. I graduated from Clarkson University with my bachelor's degree in civil and environmental engineering. I graduated in 2014, and then I moved to Florida for my first job at Wade Trim water resources.

Johns: What are some challenges you have faced? 

Darby: I have faced two really difficult things that affected my career. The first one was right after college. I did not have a job offer. I was in chemical engineering and then I switched to civil and environmental engineering, so I think that was part of  preventing me from getting a relevant internship. I only had chemical engineering internships, and so I moved home, worked two part-time jobs, kept applying for job after job after job hearing, “Oh, you're a top candidate, but someone else was more qualified.” It was one of the hardest things to deal with. I persevered and changed my job search strategy, and that paid off for me. I was offered my water resources position at Wade Trim in Florida. I learned when something is not working, change your approach and not the end goal. 

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Johns: How important has it been for you to find female mentors and colleagues?

Darby: It has been really important for me to find those female mentorships. I have had some female colleagues, but the more important thing for me has been finding females that I can look up to, so I was really lucky to have a female supervisor in Florida. In addition to that, I have joined the Society of Women Engineers. Now, I live in Vermont, and I am part of the North Country Chapter. That group of women is like a support system. I think it is important not only to have support, but one of the things that I love that we do in the Society of Women Engineers is outreach to K through 12th grades to bring exposure to girls to science and engineering and math and show them it is not just a boy’s thing. I think that kind of outreach is so important because hopefully, those girls will grow up to become the women in the industry for the next generation. 

Johns: Do you think you have seen the number of women in the industry increase?

Darby: I think it has increased. I am not always the single female in the meeting anymore. There are more women my own age, and I think that is promising. I think part of the important thing is as women in this male-dominated field, we do need to collaborate and raise each other up and support each other. I think it is important that we have those connections and those women spaces. I am hopeful that as time goes on we will see more women join the industry. 

Johns: What are some accomplishments you are most proud of in your career?

Darby:  I am most proud of the volunteer work that I do with Engineers Without Borders. Engineers Without Borders is a volunteer-based organization that focuses on providing engineering services to developing communities across the globe. The Vermont chapter is working with coffee farmers in Colombia to design and implement irrigation systems for their dry season so that they can have profitable crops all year long.  I am personally working to help develop a construction manual for this process.  My dream for the future is to take this kind of work and this experience and create an organization that is dedicated to increasing access to water resources in rural, developing communities. It goes back to what I said before, wanting to make a difference and really wanting to utilize my engineering skills to help people that otherwise would not be able to afford engineering services. My vision is to create a research and development engineering lab for drinking water and sanitation and storm water. The work that I am doing with Engineers Without Borders is kind of laying that foundation of "how do you work with these communities and what are their needs?" It is such a fulfilling experience to know you are making a difference. 

*Editor’s note: Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

About the author

Kristin Darby is staff/storm water engineer at Grenier Engineering, PC. She can be reached at [email protected].

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