Like most Americans, Nancy Patten Farrell had no idea what the term "water park" meant when she attended Brigham Young University a little more than a decade ago.
Today the Glendora, Calif., resident has firsthand knowledge of many parks as a freelance water-park designer. She works at home and uses her civil engineering skills to help create a popular form of summer recreation that sprang into prominence during the 1980s.Farrell is one of a growing number of university-trained female engineers who combine family with work and find satisfaction on both fronts.
The BYU College of Engineering and Technology surveyed its female graduates this year and learned that several have found ways to balance home and work commitments.
Diana L. Hubbard of Noblesville, Ind., for example, began her career as a systems engineer in CAD/CAM (computer-aided design and manufacturing) managing a $7-million modernization and upgrade program for Allison Gas Turbine in Indianapolis.
"What has been of greatest value to me," she says, "is not the opportunity itself but the circumstances in which I have been able to contribute."
She works now part time with Electronic Data Systems (EDS) while her husband attends graduate school. With her three-day work schedule she says she has been able to devote time to her project and work at home during her child's nap time.
"Because I had the opportunity to receive my design engineering technology degree, I have been able to help support my family while keeping our home and church life in balance," she says.
Another graduate, Debbie Barrus of San Jose, Calif., began her own consulting company after she discovered that a shortage of technical people means "people are willing to work with you."
Gayle F. Miner, a BYU professor in electrical and computer engineering, former adviser to the Society of Women Engineers, and member of the university's Women in Science Center committee, said the college has a high commitment to female students.
"As a college we work hard to get them here and then help them graduate," he says. "We bring people from the outside as role models to let them know they can succeed, and upper-division female students serve as role models. The college also has an active chapter of the Society of Women Engineers to provide support.
For graduates who persist, the benefits are promising.
In Farrell's case, the benefit is high pay on her own terms. She met her professional obligations by working two years, passing the professional engineers' licensing examination and keeping current in the field of civil engineering.
She continued her study with master's courses at Cal Poly. Her first job, with C.F. Brown, a petrochemical consulting firm, yielded her a good mentor who provided a role model. He did consulting at night, and Farrell saw real possibilities there.
When she left to work at home, her goal was to develop a good reputation for professionalism and impressive follow-through and turnaround time.
"There is so much money to be made this way," she says. "I can make $600 to $700 in one night, and with the extra money, I can afford to hire some help around the house."
She has learned to work with distractions, which means her four children are welcome in her office, a room that also includes a school desk filled with projects for them and a computer for their use.