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Women in Engineering: Q&A with Rachel Burnham, PE

June 23, 2017 is International Women In Engineering day.   A day to celebrate the technical roles and amazing careers in engineering that girls can aspire to achieve.  The day also allows us to recognize the achievements of our own outstanding female engineers. In celebration of SRF’s women engineers, each day this week we are showcasing a valuable member of our women engineering team.

Rachel Burnham, PE | Highway Engineer

Joined SRF: 2009

Bachelor of Arts, Design Arts, Drury University
Bachelor of Science, Civil Engineering, University of Missouri

What are a few of your favorite hobbies outside of work?
I joke that my hobby is collecting hobbies, because I really have too many to count. Right now I fill my spare time with my husband, one-year old daughter, and dogs. When I have extra time to myself I enjoy baking and cake/cookie decorating, all sorts of arts & crafts, photography, reading, traveling, and playing board games. I make Halloween costumes every year and love planning parties. In addition, I really enjoy yoga and swimming. I’m always up for trying new things!

Why did you decide to study engineering?
I began studying architecture because I like the combination of design/art and math, but after interning at an architecture firm and working with a civil engineer, I realized I enjoyed the engineering side of the industry more. The university I attended did not have a civil engineering major, so I enrolled in a dual degree program where I earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in Design and a Bachelor’s of Science in Civil Engineering.

How did you get started in the field?
While in school studying engineering, I was an intern for the City of Columbia, Missouri, working on a non-motorized transportation federal pilot project. After graduation I moved to Madison, Wisconsin and looked for a job as a transportation engineer focusing in design. I was hired by SRF and have been here ever since.

Tell us about your role at SRF.
I’m the only roadway designer in the Madison office, so I wear a lot of hats. I work on a wide range of design projects – from small multi-use paths to full urban reconstruction projects. I typically do the majority of the design, drafting, and production. I also assist our traffic/planning group with conceptual intersection design, environmental documents, and corridor studies. I’m the lead C3D user in Wisconsin and the go-to person for Wisconsin C3D standards. I also sit on several committees within SRF and I am the programs chair of Wisconsin WTS.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Being a part of small office has a lot of ups and downs. You have to learn things quickly and sometimes it is challenging to find the correct answer. However, it is a great feeling when you finish a project and are able to reflect on how much you learned and see the result of your hard work. When you see the finished project in person, it is a huge feeling of accomplishment.

What project are you the proudest of, or has been your favorite?
I am very proud of how much I learned on the CTH SN reconstruction project. Located in La Crosse, the project was challenging, but provided invaluable experience as I grow as an engineer. My favorite project was site design for a small dog park because it is very close to my house and it something that my family will use regularly.

 Did you face any challenges as a woman in engineering, if so what were they?
I have been the only woman in the Madison office for 7.5 years, but I have a lot in common with my coworkers and they are all great, so it has never been an issue in the office. There has been a bit of gender bias at public meetings I have attended or participated in.

What advice would you give to a female engineer entering her career?
The hardest and most frustrating projects are the ones where you learn the most, so when things get tough – jump in. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is so important to understand why you are doing something in addition to how to do something.