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Women's History Month at Urban
Publication Date
March 1st 2024, 9:00 am

March is Women's History Month, and Urban acknowledges women's significant contributions and achievements. The month offers a chance to shed light on the inspiring stories and accomplishments of women who have played key roles in shaping various fields. We are pleased to highlight the talented women at Urban Engineers, hearing how they break barriers and inspire the next generation.


We interviewed eight women at Urban to uncover insights into their professional journeys. They shared significant challenges encountered in their careers, their strategies to overcome them, and their perspectives on the importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the engineering industry.


Share a challenge you have faced in your career and how you overcame it.


Erika Rush, PP, AICP, Board Member, Urban Engineers. Erika led Urban’s planning group as a Practice Leader for nearly 20 years.

“Like most entry-level people, when I started out, I was given small technical tasks to do, which led to more technical responsibility, running a portion of a project, and eventually running an entire project. I developed a reputation for doing good, solid work and being able to deliver an assignment. The problem I encountered is that managers sometimes just want you to keep doing what you do well. I felt that there was much more that I needed to learn to make me a better professional. There were gaps I needed to address - project accounting and proposal development, to name two – and I wasn’t sure how to get to those next steps.


How did I overcome this challenge? I asked! It didn’t happen right away, and it took several discussions to be given the opportunity, but the lessons I learned were to think about what I needed, be proactive and ask, and not give up.”


Joan Miller, Board Member, Urban Engineers, Senior Vice President, CH2M (retired) 1980-2016.

“One challenge and concern I had early in my career was how to ensure a robust career path. I did not want to become pigeonholed as someone who was good or had expertise in one area. I studied a variety of areas under the civil engineering program, worked as a co-op student for two different engineering companies during college, and knew myself well enough that I wanted variety in my roles. I felt myself being pushed into a field construction management career path, and while I enjoyed the work, I wanted to do more and different things. My strategy was to position myself for other opportunities in the company that were adjacent to my area of expertise. It allowed me to grow and enhance my skills and experiences. Through networking, raising my hand when new projects or positions were available, and striving for excellent performance in my current role, I successfully embarked on a career path that allowed me to have a wide diversity of experiences, from construction management to project and program management, to sales and sales management, to contracts and risk management, operations management and eventually executive management in the company.”


Abbey Gancz, PE, Project Manager, Urban Engineers.

"The transition to project manager was challenging. To go from leading individual tasks to leading projects was a significant adjustment in terms of managing the project’s budget and schedule, being the primary point of contact with the client, and figuring out how to address unique challenges.


I overcame it mainly by not being afraid to ask questions and ask for guidance from my managers and colleagues at Urban when needed."

In your opinion, why is diversity important in engineering, and how can the industry promote more inclusivity?


Dianne Semingson, Board Member, Urban Engineers, Founder and President, DLS International.

“Diversity is important everywhere because we are a diverse society. Why should anyone be left out if they are capable of helping to achieve whatever needs to be done? Studies have shown that companies with a diverse workforce generally perform better, and corporate boards of directors that have at least three women on the board have a higher stock value!


I believe everyone should have an equal chance to be included. I recently read a quote from a young woman engineer: “To be a successful engineer, you (a woman) should possess the same skills (as a male engineer): technical, analytical, interpersonal, and organizational.”


Statistics indicate that over time, more women engineers leave the profession than men. There are several reasons for that, but the reasons should not include the feeling of not getting the same interesting or challenging jobs or equal pay. Engineering firms, like most companies, are becoming sensitive to diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI). Training programs are underway in many firms. However, the “elephant in the room” is often unconscious bias – more complex, but simply defined  - as “a biased, often negative attitude that prejudices one without one’s conscious awareness, against a specific group or individual.”  Understanding unconscious bias is what organizations need to work on now.“


Cindy O’Dell, Interim Director of Corporate Development, Urban Engineers.

“Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are important in engineering for the same reasons DEI is important in all aspects of society. By employing diverse staff, a company supports, embraces, and leverages the creativity, innovations, knowledge, and experience of varied backgrounds and perspectives, bringing those multi-faceted outlooks to our AEC projects. Additionally, having a DEI staff of professionals represents our AEC projects' clients, interested parties, communities, and end users.  The AEC industry can promote more inclusivity by putting aside lip service or performative DEI and seeking out qualified professionals to substantially and meaningfully lead staff, spearhead projects, and engage with the public. This takes introspection into ingrained -isms combined with the making of conscious choices to expand our staff with a DEI spectrum.”


Diane Purdy, PE, Associate Vice President, Office Manager, Urban Engineers

“DEI initiatives are important because engineering will only work if we focus on the next generation of engineers. As an industry, we need to promote females in engineering.  We need to provide access to resources, education, and mentoring opportunities. We must be role models and shift the focus to the positive impacts that engineers can make in society.”


Emily Yessick, PE, Program Manager, Rail and Transit, Urban Engineers

“Embracing diversity is important in any industry, but especially in engineering. As engineers, it is our job to constantly problem-solve and come up with creative ways to do it. No one wants an outdated solution; we must think outside of the box. Every person has their own set of skills that are based on experiences unique to them. By recognizing this and allowing a problem to be attacked from different angles it will not only benefit the end-user but drive deeper thinking and we might be surprised at what we learn from others. Having a team with varied backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives brings a more collaborative approach to the challenges and the solutions. In many ways, it can be a catalyst for innovation and progress. Diversity isn’t just a buzzword. It can be a powerful way to drive innovation, strengthen problem-solving and collaboration, and ultimately push advancements in the industry. Some ways our industry can promote diversity might include outreach programs to schools and universities to encourage careers in STEM by underrepresented groups and sponsoring or participating in programs that help address diversity challenges in engineering. We could implement flexible work hours and remote work options to accommodate various lifestyles and provide family-friendly policies. Internally, companies can showcase success stories within the organization, foster a culture of cultural awareness, and encourage open dialogue about differences and perspectives. All of these can help foster an environment where everyone is valued no matter their background and feel empowered to contribute to the field of engineering.”


Have you been involved in any initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion? 


Laura Frein, CPSM, Business Development and Marketing Manager, Surface Transportation Market, Urban Engineers.

“Throughout my career, I've been fortunate to engage with initiatives that actively promote diversity. Early on, I played a leadership role in my company's "Next Generation" initiative, and our success led to an invitation to present at the Company's leadership meeting. This special invitation allowed me to connect with top leadership, resulting in exposure and new career opportunities.


Serving on the Montgomery County (PA) Commission for Women and Families provided another enriching experience, where I collaborated with a diverse board of strong and intelligent women. Together, we raised funds to award scholarships to local students, exposing me to needs within the community that I hadn't previously recognized. This involvement deepened my appreciation for the support services provided by the County to ensure the success of all residents.


Currently, as President-Elect for the SMPS Philadelphia Chapter, I am proud to be a part of an organization that fosters diversity, notably through the awarding of a DEI scholarship. This scholarship covers the membership costs for recipients selected based on the content and quality of their applications, with special consideration given to those from historically disadvantaged groups such as women, people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, people with disabilities, and service-disabled veterans.”


Carol Martsolf, PE, PMP, CPTD, LEED AP, Vice President, Chief Learning Officer.

“It matters to me that all people feel a sense of belonging and there is equity to opportunity for all regardless of gender, race, etc.  Diversity, equity, and inclusion are very important to me. I am honored to have served as the Past President of ASCE's MOSAIC, which is the international committee that oversees DEI for ASCE. (I currently humbly and proudly serve on ASCE's Board of Direction.) I am also a member of the WTS International ED&I committee, where I have been asked to enhance DEI internationally for WTS. Additionally, I am a member of the Philadelphia Chapter's ED&I committee. In recognition of my efforts, I humbly received the WTS Philadelphia Diversity Award in 2022.


I am currently serving on the PECO Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, where I help to ensure equity and access for traditionally marginalized communities toward a cleaner and greener energy future. I am also proud to be a co-founder of the Urban Women's Professional Network (UWPN).


Over the years, I have had the pleasure of teaching and facilitating numerous diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice courses and programs for ASCE, WTS, internally at Urban, and for clients. Sometimes enhanced access and equity starts with awareness and education.”


Erika Rush, PP, AICP, Board Member, Urban Engineers. Erika led Urban’s planning group as a Practice Leader for close to 20 years.

“I am pleased to have had a role in diversity and inclusion initiatives at Urban. When I joined Urban, DEI was not really a topic in the industry, although the low numbers of women and minorities in the industry were often highlighted as needing to change. There was no larger framework of DEI initiatives, such as a local WTS chapter, and firms and agencies, by and large, did not have any internal groups or policies dedicated to these issues.


And it was within this context, for quite a while, I was the only female at a management level in the technical part of the company. I spent a significant amount of time out of the office at project meetings with clients or at industry events. I was able to get out and see what was possible – I wanted the same for women at Urban. I thought it would be great to tap a couple of accomplished women professionals in my industry network to come in for lunch with Urban women to talk about how their careers evolved and how they manage their careers today. I floated the idea to my boss, Jim Charles, and will forever be grateful that, without hesitation, he told me to set it up.  That starting lunch turned into a regularly scheduled event. Carol Martsolf, Jen Waters, and others took this initial gathering and have developed it into what it is today – Urban’s Women Professional Network.


I also was on the DEI Committee when it was formed at Urban. The group had great representation and worked hard to raise awareness of these issues.”


Erika Rush

Erika Rush, PP, AICP, Board Member, Urban Engineers. Erika led Urban’s planning group as a Practice Leader for nearly 20 years.

Joan Miller

Joan Miller, Board Member, Urban Engineers, Senior Vice President, CH2M (retired) 1980-2016.

dianne semingson

Dianne Semingson, Board Member, Urban Engineers, Founder and President, DLS International.

Cindy O’Dell

Cindy O’Dell, Interim Director of Corporate Development


Diane Purdy, PE, Associate Vice President, Office Manager, Urban Engineers

emily yessick 2000px

Emily Yessick, PE, Program Manager, Rail and Transit, Urban Engineers

frein laura small

Laura Frein, CPSM, Business Development and Marketing Manager, Surface Transportation Market, Urban Engineers Credit: Urban Engineers,Inc.