Jennifer Gora

Civil Engineering, B.S. (1994); Environmental Engineering, M.S. (1998)

Project Manager - Metropolitan Airports Commission

Hometown: Winona, MN

Now lives in: Minneapolis, MN

Career path: I began my career in transportation working on roadways, then changed emphasis to aviation design and construction. Work included general aviation and reliever airports, which allowed me to do various aspects of project design and construction observation/administration. I moved around the United States a bit to work on larger airports and also had opportunities to collaborate with other engineering disciplines that had projects near an airport. My career has allowed me to work on a new general aviation airport, new taxiway design for large aircraft, a new runway with supporting infrastructure at a large commercial airport, and other miscellaneous improvement projects. 

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?

I enjoyed math and science, but also enjoyed creating transportation networks in the sandbox for my toy cars. It was fun to provide infrastructure to get a car from one point to another and even better if obstacles were part of the route. That made me figure out a way to overcome a situation to complete the path for the toy car. 

What’s it like being a woman in a male-dominated field?

It can be challenging but also rewarding. There is always a learning curve when you first enter the field where you will be tested by a coworker, client, contractor or others on project related elements. This happens to everyone to some degree.

I have learned that it is best to be up front if you don’t know something or need to find out more information before you can provide an answer. I also try to understand how a project impacts others and many times this requires me to go into the field to observe, gain insight, or other understanding of existing conditions to figure out how design of a project will work for the situation. You may not be able to foresee all hurdles, but getting away from your desk to observe the field conditions of the project is quite valuable and something I still do today.

Due to location moves and working in construction, I have experienced interesting situations where clients or contractors would prefer to coordinate with male counterparts while others were more accepting. Over time, these situations resolve themselves and you have to look at these experiences as a learning opportunity.

Even today, I may be the only woman in a meeting but I have a voice and I am part of the conversation as well as a decision maker.

What advice would you give to young girls interested in engineering?

Find what interests you in the engineering field and see if you can shadow someone for a day or visit a firm/agency that focuses on your area of interest. This will allow you to get a snapshot of what a job in your interest area actually does. It may help reaffirm your interest, or guide you in another direction within the engineering field.

What’s your best memory from NDSU?

There are many memories from my time on campus, but one related to engineering is the camaraderie. During technical course work many of the civil engineering students would have late nights studying in the union cafeteria and then kick back after a test with fellow students.

How did your NDSU education prepare you for your career?

I am grateful that many of my professors had real world experience to help me understand what situations I may encounter in my professional career. It was helpful to see how the theory and principles that we learned in the classroom translated to every day work situations. One example of this is a civil engineering professor teaching pavement design. He brought in a pan of rice krispie bars and asked each student to take one. We discussed the different components of the rice krispie bars and how it related to a pavement section.

What’s the biggest misconception about your job?

That my job requires me to hold a stop/slow sign or drive a train.

What advice would you give to female college students just getting started in the NDSU engineering program?

The first two years of the program is when a student takes many of the general education/engineering requirements which can be a struggle for any student. The fun begins in the third year when a student has classes related to technical aspects of civil engineering that relate to real world design work. The technical courses will be helpful in affirming your area of interest for a career.

Enjoy opportunities on class assignments for team collaboration and working with others, as this will be helpful in the real world. Also, seek involvement in organizations (ASCE, SWE, ITE, etc) and be active on the board or committees within the organization. You will gain leadership, team building and networking opportunities outside of your coursework.

Last but not least, enjoy your time at NDSU and in the College of Engineering program.


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