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Stepping Away from My Desk Makes Me a Better Engineer

By Jameelah Ingram posted 05-06-2019 05:18 PM


The wafting aroma of cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. signals the arrival of spring.  Whenever the weather breaks, I am reminded of why it is important to step away from my desk.  Here are a few reasons why I have found moments of respite to be so valuable:

Strengthen Professional Skills 

It may seem counterintuitive, but stepping away from my desk to engage in a hobby has strengthened my professional skills within the work environment. Similar to extracurricular activities experienced as a student, hobbies lend themselves to shaping a well-rounded professional.

For example, I enrolled in a stand-up comedy class called “Five Minutes to Funny” at a comedy club in Washington, DC. At the end of the class, I performed my act in front of a full audience. Because of this experience, making a presentation at work or at conferences is certainly much easier. (There are no hecklers, lights shining in my face, or pressures to make people laugh!) The lessons I learned in comedy enhanced my face-to-face communication skills in the office. Words in the work environment can also be fashioned so that they achieve desired results and are considerate of others.

Renew Passion for the Engineering Profession

As the ASCE National Capital Section Education Committee Co-Chair for Collegiate Outreach, I read student essays for scholarship applications. Students’ dreams are grand and full of passion. Stepping away from my day-to-day work to read these essays restores my zeal for the profession – and reminds me why I chose to pursue an engineering career.

During National Engineers Week, engineers make a concerted effort to spread the good word about the profession to students. Many engineers step away from their desks to make presentations and demonstrations in classrooms and museums across the country. Just as an engineer’s visit to a classroom of students can inspire a future engineer, a future engineer can reignite an engineer’s spark in return. Wide eyes, eager attitudes, and curiosity from students can motivate and reinvigorate their mentors!

Judging a science fair, participating in a career day, or simply talking to young people about engineering projects are great ways to engage in outreach and renew one’s passion, any week of the year.

Explore and Generate Ideas

It’s also important for me to step away from my desk to explore ideas, which may even lead to new ones. For instance, I started a journey to learn about film and television production. Through combining this interest with civil engineering, I had an idea for a fun, educational show about bridges. I grabbed my camera and started shooting and interviewing friends and family. I hope that viewers of my show come away from it with a new interest in infrastructure. As noted in The Medici Effect, by Frans Johansson, diversity drives innovation and innovation happens at the intersection of ideas, concepts, and cultures.

Who knows? By stepping outside of the workplace, it’s possible to combine skill sets to bring an idea to life or derive a solution to an engineering problem.

Stepping away from my desk led to strengthened skills, renewed passion, and ideas. Most of all, it was an opportunity for me to hit my mind’s refresh button. (Once, I finished a day of work still in search of a solution to a problem, went to sleep, and surprisingly woke up with an answer!)  Literally stepping away – whether taking a stroll outdoors, eating lunch in a break room or local eatery, or taking the time to say a brief “hello” to a co-worker - is essential to maintaining balance, health, and adding more joy to the day.

Jameelah M. Ingram, P.E. was inspired to study architecture and structural engineering by the soaring skyscrapers and beautiful bridges in her hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Her mother, who is a surreal artist, and father, a U.S. Navy Veteran, greatly influenced her path. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Princeton University and a Master of Science in Civil Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Jameelah is a Lead Structural Engineer in the Washington, D.C. office of WSP USA. She has over a decade of experience in bridge design, inspection, and rehabilitation – including an internship in Tokyo, Japan. Jameelah currently works on behalf of the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration (MDOT MTA) for the Purple Line Light Rail Transit Project. As a Project Engineer, she assists the Real Estate team with the acquisition of Right of Way and engineering coordination. 

In 2013, Jameelah was selected as one of the American Society of Civil Engineer’s (ASCE) New Faces of Civil Engineering. In 2018, Jameelah received the Meritorious Service Award from the ASCE National Capital Section for engineering outreach efforts with students. Presently, Jameelah resides in Washington, D.C. with her husband Jesse, a fellow engineer. She enjoys travel, filmmaking, and visiting the museums that the Nation’s Capital has to offer.

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