Women Who Do: Civil, Environmental, and Construction Engineer & President of Kallisto Engineering
Mia Samsel does it all. A civil, environmental, and construction engineer with a project management background who’s worked on multi-billion dollar projects, Mia is also a mom of two, including a son with severe autism, has taught engineer-related courses as an adjunct professor, and started her own engineering consulting business, Kallisto Engineering, last year. Mia spoke with us about being a “late bloomer” to the math and sciences, her biggest challenge to starting her own business in a male-led industry, and how she balances her business and her kids.
Q) When it comes to STEM fields, women are overwhelmingly underrepresented. Have you always been interested in engineering?
My parents immigrated from Europe in search of opportunities in professions that they hoped would provide them with a stable source of income. They encouraged me to go into a traditional profession like engineering.
In high school, I was an average student who was easily distracted. I struggled with math and science, and it took considerable effort, time, and maturity to develop an understanding of these subjects. As a former adjunct professor, I observed that many of my younger college students similarly needed more time to mature mentally before they were able to process abstract concepts used in engineering. I related to them.
I think many young students, particularly women, aren’t patient enough with themselves and perhaps aren’t encouraged to pursue math and science if they don’t immediately catch on. I would encourage young women who somehow believe that “they are not good at math or science” to give themselves and their brains time to develop, and maybe try again at a later point. They may be late bloomers, like me, but I have never regretted having a career in a field that is consistently in high demand.
Q) What have been some of your biggest career obstacles? How did you overcome them?
Being a mother has been a huge commitment. It is extremely difficult to have the perfect career and be a perfect mom. Although I am driven to be the best that I can be at both, I realize that I am only human.
There’s an old perfume commercial where a woman in a business suit sings upon entering her kitchen after a hard day at work, and says “I can bring home the bacon AND fry it up in the pan, because I’M A WOMAN.” In response, I say forget that. If you try to do it all, you put yourself at risk of burning out. You can be a woman, have a successful career, and pick up Thai food for dinner on the way home.
Q) You built Kallisto Engineering, LLC in 2016. What has been the most difficult part about starting your own business?
Finding female mentors in the engineering consulting field who are willing to share ideas, resources, etc. is difficult. There aren’t many, and they’re often too busy to be a mentor.
I feel that it is just as important for a mentor to pass on knowledge, as it is get feedback and fresh ideas from a mentee, so having this relationship would be beneficial to any current and future female business owner.
Q) What advice do you have for other female engineers that want to strike out on their own?
There are many excellent and free resources for women looking to start their own business. Do research and take advantage of free online courses, seminars provided by the Small Business Association (SBA), and learning from the many woman-run business organizations out there.
Q) You teach engineering and physics as an adjunct instructor for several colleges and universities in your spare time. For those that have trouble speaking to large groups, do you have any tips on how to develop or improve public speaking skills?
I find it helpful to use prompts, pictures, demonstrations as much as possible to help make things engaging. It takes the focus off of the speaker and more on the subject being discussed. I suggest practicing multiple times beforehand (try talking to your cat if you have no one else!). Always double check any media that you may be using while you speak well before you get on stage. Nothing will throw you off more than not being able to access your PowerPoint presentation while you are saying your introductions.
Q) How do you balance your work with being a mom of two, including a son with severe autism?
You can’t do it alone. I have been blessed with having so many wonderful professionals, teachers, friends, and relatives who have helped me raise my children. This has allowed me the precious small amounts of time to move forward with my career despite challenges at home.
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