Women In Tunneling features an exemplary female representative of the tunneling industry each month in order to highlight the significance of having diversity in the underground field. For August 2020, we are proud to introduce Jessica Garcia, Project Manager at American Mine Services. Join us in our interview with Garcia below where she shares her insights on the industry's struggle to retain women in high leadership positions, her hopes for the industry's future, and advice for engineers looking to enter the underground field.
- What is your actual involvement in the tunneling business?
Currently, I am a Project Manager for a mining and tunneling contractor overseeing underground construction projects throughout the United States.
- How were you introduced to the tunnel industry, and why did you decide to pursue it as a career?
My introduction to the industry was through a summer internship with a major underground contractor. That summer, in conjunction with tunneling coursework during my undergrad at Colorado School of Mines, piqued my interest. I pursued the industry as a career because of the greater impact tunnel projects tend to have on society, from cleaner waterways to better access to public transportation. Tunneling and underground construction can take you around the world as a career, while serving a larger purpose for humankind.
- What is it like to work as an engineer on underground projects?
Challenging and rewarding. Challenging in that underground projects in themselves are dynamic and ever evolving due to variations in ground conditions. Coupled with the application of the problem-solving skills acquired during your engineering education for the first time in a fast-paced environment can be both overwhelming and invigorating at the same time. Being an engineer on a project is also very rewarding in the visible and tangible progress that can be seen each day as the heading advances towards completion.
- What professional achievement are you most proud of, or feel defines you in some way?
There are a couple achievements that come to mind; my first career hole through, installation of the first 600 ton micropiles in Chicago, contribution on the first crossover TBM drive in the US and most recently the demolition, fabrication and erection of a headframe in under thirty days. Each project brought its own challenges and experiences, all requiring substantial personal and professional development and growth in different aspects.
- What do you hope the future holds for yourself, for the industry, and/or for other women who will be a part of tunneling & underground construction?
I have been fortunate to work for and alongside individuals and managers that have fostered my development and growth strictly from an evaluation of ability and potential. My hope is that managers today encourage the growth of the next generation based on their aptitudes and potential, regardless of their gender. My aspiration is to continue to develop and grow into an industry leader and while doing so, act as a role model and support system for the future of the industry. As for the industry itself, it is expanding both in size and complexity, the need for talented self-motivated engineers/managers will only increase, leaving an abundance of opportunities for those willing to take on the challenges.
- Even though the number of women has been increasing over the years, the tunneling industry is still considered a male oriented environment. What can be done, in your opinion, to bring awareness of this business to a larger number of women?
While there is recent growth in recruitment of young women, the industry is still lacking depth of women at the top as senior managers and role models. Women tend to leave the industry between 5-10 years into their career for a variety of reasons. As we look to attracting more women to the industry we also need to focus on the retention and development of those already in it. And for those in leadership positions to lend a hand and encourage the growth within the industry.
- What is your advice to an engineer looking to enter the underground field?
My advice is to be open to the challenges and take them in stride. Anyone can manage a project when it is going well, but having the ability to draw upon experiences from challenging and complex situations is invaluable for long term success. My final piece of advice is to advocate for yourself. Your career is your responsibility, do not be afraid to ask for help along the way, but also ask for what you want to learn and develop.
Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your personal insights with the UCA of SME Women In Tunneling community. We are grateful to have you as a member, and proud to have you representing Women In Tunneling.