One of our Connections regular features – employees' profiles! Let’s meet Olga Rodas
Blazing a Trail for Women and Minorities in Engineering
One of Syska’s priorities is to promote diversity and inclusion not only within our firm, but also within the industry at large. Olga Rodas, a mechanical engineer in our Los Angeles office, is helping to lead this initiative. Connections asked her about her career and about her efforts to promote the field of engineering to women, minorities, and others:
Connections: What is your background, and how did you get into engineering? Olga: I was born and raised in Guatemala, and I moved to the U.S. about 12 years ago. I completed two years of high school here and then went to college at CSU Bakersfield, where I studied engineering, sciences, and petroleum engineering. Every summer, I’d intern at different companies. I tried manufacturing, 3D printing, and construction. My last internship was with a general contractor, which put me to work on a big hospital project. This experience gave me an excellent overview of the building industry. I realized that there are amazing minds behind the equipment and the designs, and I started leaning toward mechanical engineering. When I finished college, that same internship helped me get my foot into the door at Syska. I joined on March 26, 2018.
Connections: Neither women nor minorities are well represented in the A/E/C field. As someone who fits both categories, what have your experiences been like? Olga: Sometimes you feel a little isolated, and I’ve always felt that I’ve had to make an extra effort to demonstrate that I’m capable. There have been many occasions when I meet contractors who want to test me by asking me difficult questions. It’s only after I answer their questions that I gain their respect.
Connections: You are very active in efforts to attract more women and minorities into the industry. What are some of the programs and committees you’re involved in? Olga: I recently became the office champion for Syska’s affiliation with the Society of Women Engineers. I’m also a member of the SHAPE (Syska Hennessy Advocating Professional Equality) committee. Starting in college, I joined the Society of Women Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Engineers. I love giving back to the community and encouraging people to join a STEM field, so I often deliver presentations to young people about my career progression and about the wide range of options available to them.
Connections: Some of your presentations take place in Guatemala, right? Olga: Yes. I visit a school in my hometown city of Quetzaltenago. This school was established by volunteers to educate kids who are homeless or whose parents are on drugs. I bring school supplies and then I teach the kids about engineering. My goal is for them to see how engineering can change your life and open doors. I visit family on every trip, but now I have a larger purpose.
Connections: How do the kids respond to your presentation? Olga: At the beginning, they’re a little distracted. But then I pull out a bag of chocolates and start asking questions to make the session interactive. And I have a PowerPoint with cartoons of engineers and buildings. That always catches their attention. Once they learn about all of the different types of engineers, they’re intrigued and curious. Sometimes after the presentation they come up to me and hug me and thank me for teaching them new things. It really fills my heart.
Connections: What are your future goals for this program? Olga: At this point I am just trying to expand the scope of the program. My end goal is to provide these kids with a computer lab or an engineering lab where they can learn robotics, play with Legos to build stuff, or use 3D printers. I’d love to sponsor a lab like that in my country.