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Women In Engineering Day- You Do Have A Place At The Table

PEC's Sarah Unruh, PE, Shares About Her Journey in Honor of Women In Engineering Day

Women engineers are on the rise. According to the Society of Women Engineers, there is a 10% increase in the industry over the last 30 years. With 23 years of cumulative experience including 17 years with PEC, Sarah Unruh is part of that movement. She now leads a team of engineers that are making a huge impact on communities.

When you were looking at career paths, what made you decide to be an engineer and choose your specific field?

The high school counselor identified engineering as something that might fit well with my academic skills and interests. I knew I would not be following in either of my parent’s footsteps – pastoral skills and nursing were definitely not my gifts – so I decided to try engineering. I always had an interest in the environment, so I chose to pursue Civil Engineering as K-State offered a secondary major in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. This secondary major offered me the opportunity to take classes specific to water and wastewater systems and treatment, solidifying my interest in these areas.

Throughout your career, how do you feel the industry has changed for women?

There were few women in my classes at K-State, and I was the only woman student working in the Safety Department at K-State. Throughout college and my professional career, I have generally been surrounded by people who saw my value and took the time to mentor me along the way. The early years were difficult at times when I encountered some who didn’t value my opinion as a woman or a young engineer. Those attitudes have become less and less over time, and the industry is moving towards a more equal representation. I see this in all the women at PEC and women I have met through projects and professional organizations. Oftentimes, I would be the only woman in the room early in my career, and today, I work with so many brilliant women at PEC and throughout the industry.

What project that you have worked on recently that you are most excited about?

Every project is exciting to me because we are helping a community address a need or a problem and making an impact on the community. I have been involved with the new Northwest Water Treatment Facility for the City of Wichita since 2015 when we evaluated the property the City had purchased years ago; now, we are in construction that will be completed around the end of 2024. PEC is responsible for multiple design elements of the project as well as survey, Geotech, and materials testing. I am the Project Manager for all our contracts and work across all disciplines. It is exciting to be part of the largest capital project in Wichita history from concept to a fully operational facility and to be able to work with every part of PEC.

For women who are new to the industry, what advice would you give to them?

You do belong at the table, never let anyone tell you or make you feel otherwise – be confident in your abilities. Find women in the industry to be a mentor to navigate with you – women you see as strong leaders to build you up. We are not meant to do life alone – personally or professionally – find your tribe and support system.