Mackayla Headlee

Electrical Engineering, B.S. (2016)

Electrical Engineer - Burns & McDonnell Transmission & Distribution Group

Hometown: Nisswa, MN

Now lives in: Overland Park, KS

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

I am a third generation electrical engineer. I followed in the footsteps of my grandfather, father, and sister before me (all NDSU EE grads!). I always knew I enjoyed and excelled at math and science, and so it was an easy choice for me to go into the family industry. I also knew that not only was engineering a field full of opportunity, but specifically opportunity for women. My mom would always tell us “a woman with an engineering degree can do anything.”

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

Being a woman in a male dominated field was different in the beginning. Being one of only a few girls in my college classes was shocking at first, but the thing that I found most beneficial was the people surrounded myself with. I sought out colleagues that support women succeeding in engineering! I developed great relationships with the guys and girls in my classes, and became very involved with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). This still holds true today, building relationships with co-workers at my company that support my success, and continuing to be involved in SWE as a professional! 

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

You can do it!! There have been so many women that have gone before you and blazed the trail. Having role models to look up to in the field will help to give you confidence that you can do it too! Women are just as qualified as men to be engineers, and their diverse perspective is needed in design. If you are passionate about the field, and willing to put in the work it takes to achieve your goals, you too can be an engineer! 

What’s your best memory from NDSU?

I have so many fond memories from NDSU, from student organizations, to pursuing the degree that I was passionate about, to the lifelong friendships that I made, it is hard to choose one! One thing that stands out was the opportunity to be the student commencement speaker at my graduation ceremony. That was the icing on top of four fantastic years of growth and development. It was such a blessing to be able to represent my class and honor my family legacy through that opportunity! 

How did your NDSU education prepare you for your career?

NDSU prepared me more than I could have expected for my career at Burns & McDonnell. I was able to not only receive a quality education in electrical engineering, but I was able to learn the invaluable soft skills that make a well rounded member of the workforce. I was able to take on leadership opportunities, strengthen organizational and time management skills, and refine my public speaking abilities. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for the strong foundation I built as an undergrad at NDSU. 

What first got you interested in engineering?

Seeing my grandpa and dad have fulfilling successful careers in the industry pushed me to pursue an engineering degree.

Does your gender give you a different perspective and experience from your male counterparts?

My gender absolutely gives me a different perspective and experience from my male counterparts. One of my favorite stories about the need for females in engineering is the fact that the first airbag designed was not successful in protecting women and children because the all-male engineers only designed with their world view in mind! In engineering we need people with diverse perspectives and diverse backgrounds to provide products and services for the better of the world! 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced being a woman in engineering? How did you overcome it?

I once had someone say to me that they were “glad to see I was still in the electrical engineering program”. Now in their heart of hearts I genuinely believe that they meant what they said, they were happy to see that I was sticking with engineering! But, the challenge that I faced in that moment was that I, as a woman, was less expected to make it through the engineering program than my male counterparts. I felt defeated and frankly offended that stereotype exists! Moving forward I had to change my frame of reference. I made stereotype became a motivator for me to obtain my degree and be a role model for women entering the field as well. 

What’s the biggest misconception about your job?

That engineers only work with computers and never ever talk to people. I would estimate that 95% of my days are spent communicating with my project team or my client! So much of my day is dependent on my ability to communicate and collaborate on projects. To be a successful engineer you need the book smarts AND the social smarts!

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

Get involved in something outside of engineering! It’s fun to take a break from the rigorous course work, to get to know people outside of your classes, and to refine those soft skills that will push you over the top as a well-rounded engineer.

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