Building Bridges to Help Women Interested in Engineering

 Danielle Schroeder

Danielle Schroeder, civil engineering ’17, considers herself a latecomer to engineering. As a high school student, she never knew that it was a viable course of study, let alone a career option.

“I didn’t find out about engineering until junior year (in high school), when a teacher casually mentioned a camp to me because I was interested in science,” Schroeder says. “It was there that I both learned and fell in love with engineering.”

Now, Schroeder is making up for lost time and making sure that other students, especially girls, learn about engineering at a young age.

Schroeder, who works professionally as an associate bridge engineer for Pennoni, spends her free time volunteering for a variety of initiatives that get children as young as kindergarten up to women in high school involved in engineering. For her efforts, Schroeder was recently named the recipient of a 2020 Community Outreach and Service Award from the Philadelphia section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“I really believe that you can’t be what you can’t see,” she says. “Without seeing role models, it’s so much harder to envision yourself in that career. It’s especially difficult for young women: You Google ‘engineer’ and you mainly see pictures of men. Women need to see themselves in these professions and that is exactly what I strive to do through my STEM outreach.”

With ASCE, Schroeder is co-chair of the K-12 outreach program, which goes into schools in the city and surrounding region and teaches Civil Engineering concepts through hands-on activities. She is also vice chair of the Women’s Transportation Seminar Philadelphia’s student outreach committee for TransportationYOU, an interactive, mentoring program that offers young women ages 13-18 an introduction to a wide variety of transportation careers. Schroeder says that the hands-on aspect of the activities helps students envision themselves in that field in the future.

 Danielle Schroeder stands on top of a bridge in a yellow safety jacket and hard hat.
As a bridge engineer for Pennoni, Schroeder has worked on several local structures.

“When you’re doing something like building a tower, you have to solve problems in real time,” Schroeder says. “It’s especially effective with the elementary school students when we can mix up the groups so everyone is working with a team of people of different ages and expertise levels. It simulates working in the real world.”

Schroeder credits her time at Drexel with her success and her passion for giving back. She says that she is living the “Drexel dream,” working in a full-time job with the same company she completed co-op work with as a student.

“The beauty of co-op is you can get your feet wet and see how what you’re learning in the classroom applies to the real world,” she says. “You also get to see what kinds of work you like and what you don’t like, and it can narrow your search when you’re looking for a job after graduation. I realized that I like the physical side of infrastructure. There’s so much nuance and so many factors that go into bridges that most people don’t know about – you typically drive over a bridge and are just thankful it exists. Through my bridge design and inspection work, I get to know all the numerous components and connections that help the bridge span abutment to abutment.”

Her extracurricular activities also shaped her desire to help others find their passion in engineering. As a student member of the Society of Women Engineers, Schroeder recalls meeting Alma Forman ’49, Drexel’s first female civil engineering graduate.

“[Forman] is a huge source of inspiration for me,” Schroeder says. “She cut the path that so many of us have followed.”

Schroeder hopes to pass that inspiration on to future Dragons as the youngest member of Drexel Alumni’s board of governors.

“Pun intended – bridges are as important in my personal life as they are in my professional life,” she says. “When I was a student, I got to connect with working alumni and find out the creative ways they were using their degrees, and I want to continue that tradition to bridge the gap. Your career does not have a syllabus. Just because you have a degree in X doesn’t mean you can’t have a career in Y. Finding alumni mentors can help you make that connection.”