By Marsia Geldert-Murphey, P.E., F.ASCE
As children, we often dream about what the future will hold. My dream was to be a civil engineer. And when I first entered the profession, I was filled with enthusiasm and ambition. But I also felt overwhelmed and uncertain about the path ahead. Fortunately, the ASCE St. Louis Section Younger Member Group and my first job with the Illinois Department of Transportation helped guide me. Through these organizations, I connected with engineers who mentored me from early in my career and who are still a big part of my professional life today.
Over the years, I’ve learned that mentoring is a key component in promoting a more equitable and diverse civil engineering workforce. When you receive guidance and support from someone who has a similar perspective and understands the challenges you will encounter, it not only breaks down barriers but it also improves retention in the profession.
Civil engineering can benefit from more brilliant minds and diverse perspectives, leading to more innovative solutions to better serve our diverse society.
Because I had such a positive experience with mentoring, I knew I wanted to pay it forward. For the past 15 years, I have mentored young engineers, high school students, and university students.
Young people have the potential to drive significant progress in addressing critical issues like climate change and social justice. So we need to show them that civil engineering is a profession that can help them make a difference in our world and address some of these profound challenges.
It starts with changing the narrative. We shouldn’t just focus on the question: “Are you good at math?” We should focus on: “Are you curious? Do you like to solve problems creatively? If so, then this is the profession for you!”
One of the biggest challenges our profession faces is attracting new engineers. Many young people are not exposed to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields early in their education, leading to a lack of awareness and understanding of the potential opportunities in these fields. STEM fields, especially civil engineering, have historically been dominated by specific demographics. This lack of diversity can discourage underrepresented groups from pursuing STEM careers. When you see it, you believe it. If you don’t see someone who looks like you succeeding in a certain field, you tend to seek other possibilities.
So as civil engineers, it’s our duty to start creating that potential future through dedicated precollege outreach. Engineers Week, held every February, is a great opportunity to get involved. ASCE partners with DiscoverE for the event so that we can spotlight engineering and inspire kids to pursue careers in the field.
To help change the narrative and advance the profession, ASCE’s Future World Vision introduces a new giant-screen film, Cities of the Future: Reimagining Our World. We live in a world full of sound bites that foster uncertainty and angst. So the film, along with its public forum and outreach programs, will show young minds that they have control in bringing their visions to life and empowering their imaginations.
Shaping the future comes down to how dedicated we are to mentoring and inspiring the next generation. We have the power to create a civil engineering community that not only reflects the vibrant tapestry of our world today but also leaves an indelible positive mark on the future.
Marsia Geldert-Murphey, P.E., F.ASCE, is a regional director for Lochmueller Group. She is the 2023-2024 ASCE president.
This article first appeared in the January/February 2024 print issue of Civil Engineering as “A Recipe for Success.”