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It shouldn’t be a surprise that Emily Huettl grew up to be an engineer. After all, she’s been around the profession all of her life.
“I was probably exposed to engineering more than other kids were, so it’s always been something I was interested in,” said Huettl, Minot’s Assistant City Engineer.
Huettl had plenty of engineering role models in her youth: Both her father and an uncle are engineers, and another uncle is an architect.
Huettl grew up in Minot, and graduated from Bishop Ryan High School. She earned a degree in civil engineering from North Dakota State University, and a masters in engineering management from Ohio University. She spent 10 years at a Minot engineering consulting firm before joining the City of Minot’s engineering department nearly three years ago.
“In high school, I was going through a process of elimination. I knew I wasn’t interested in the medical field, and being a math teacher crossed my mind but I don’t think I have the patience to be a teacher,” Huettl said. “Math was fairly easy for me, so I guess that was a sign that I should put my math and science abilities to use.”
During her first year at NDSU, Huettl took an intro to engineering course that touched on several engineering career fields, like civil engineering, chemical engineering, and industrial engineering. She was hooked.
“Civil engineering was more interesting to me,” she said. “Maybe I can trace it back to playing SimCity when I was a kid.”
For the past 13 years, Huettl has been part of a profession that’s traditionally been male-dominated. National statistics estimate that less than 15 percent of engineers in the United States are women.
“That can be a little intimidating for some young women,” Huettl said. “I’ve been fortunate to work for great organizations and I haven’t had any real negative incidents. But I know female colleagues who have had some issues.”
Why don’t more women get involved with engineering? There are no doubt various reasons, but Huettl believes that young girls aren’t being exposed to the profession early enough.
“If you’re trying to get a woman interested in engineering, you’re too late. You need to get girls involved in elementary school,” she said. “By high school, if they aren’t already interested in this field, I think you’re too late.”
That’s why Huettl is happy with the growing opportunities for young students in the Minot area to be involved with science and math through organizations like Full STEAM Ahead, which is dedicated to bringing educational opportunities to kids, including robotics, coding, art, and theater, among other programs. Minot High School also has a growing list of technology and science offerings to introduce students to potential career fields like engineering.
“We have some great things going on in our community that expose sciences and math to young students,” Huettl said. “I think exposure is the most important factor in creating interest among young girls, especially.”
The City of Minot Engineering Department currently employs a female intern from Minot Public Schools, a working relationship that Huettl said benefits everyone involved.
“She’s getting really good experience and it’s great for us because she’s helping us do a lot of work that we don’t necessarily have the time to complete,” Huettl said. “She’s learning a lot and using some high-tech equipment, so it’s a win-win situation.”
In her time as an engineer, Huettl said she’s seen an increase in the number of women involved in the profession.
“Just in the past 10 or 15 years since I’ve been in engineering, there are more women in the room now,” she said. “When I first started it would have been rare if I wasn’t the only woman in the office. You kind of get used to being the only woman in a room of mostly older men, but I’m starting to see changes.”
And she thinks engineering, civil engineering in particular, will have a lot of opportunity for job growth in the future.
“There’s always going to be a need for municipal infrastructure. You can work anywhere in the country or the world, because you need roads, water, and sewer everywhere,” she said. “There is a backlog of infrastructure maintenance across the country, and we’ll need engineers to help clear up that backlog. That creates a lot of opportunities.”
Huettl encourages young students – male and female – to get involved in engineering as a career.
“I don’t approach it as why females should be interested in engineering – I approach it as why everyone should be interested,” she said. “Getting students exposed to engineering at a young age is the key to the future.”