While the solar industry is creating jobs nearly 20 times faster than the overall economy, women in solar have traditionally held less than half of those roles. At Borrego Solar, we’re committed to building long-term career opportunities for women, and we’re actively hiring and promoting women in leadership and technical roles.
In an effort to highlight some of the technical roles filled by women at Borrego Solar, we’ve launched a Q&A series. We talk about their career paths, lessons learned, and changes they’ve seen in the industry.
Our first conversation is with Melissa Samaroo, a civil engineer supporting Borrego Solar’s expansion into the Midwest from our new office in Chicago.
What do you do in your role as a civil engineer?
MS: I’m in charge of the permitting and entitlement process for our land development projects. I work on the plans and create application packages which include reports and storm water modeling. Then I attend hearings where I present on the plans.
I’m involved at a lot of different project stages — from early stage interaction with land owners, all the way to attending hearings and working with local boards to explain how our projects can help their community. I also work to help get the projects permitted.
What is your degree in? Did you know in college that you wanted to do civil engineering?
MS: My degree is in civil engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. I knew that I liked math and science, and I wanted to work in the renewable energy field and have the opportunity to work outside. Civil engineering was a good fit because it combined all my interests.
Why did you join Borrego Solar?
MS: This looked like my dream job and I went for it. It marries the two things that I really love and am passionate about in one nice package: engineering and solar.
I was also excited to join a company that maintains a team of in-house civil engineers. A lot of companies in this industry only hire civil engineers as consultants, so this was a great opportunity to be part of a growing team. Borrego Solar is definitely not the norm.
Can you describe your career path so far?
MS: I began my career as a civil engineer drafter, creating plans but not doing any of the technical aspects. As I gained more experience, I started creating reports and doing the calculations and models that go along with the reports.
I’ve been with Borrego Solar for more than a year, and recently moved from Lowell, Mass. to our new office in Chicago. I still do both technical and support roles, and I’m now managing a civil consultant who is helping us to launch our offices here as we help Illinois businesses save energy costs with solar.
Are there other women in the civil engineering team?
MS: The civil engineering department is growing at Borrego Solar, especially for women. When I started, I was the only woman on the team. Since then, we’ve hired another junior civil engineer and a civil engineer coordinator, both of whom are women. And we’re continuing to pursue women candidates.
Did you face any challenges being a woman in a technical field like civil engineering?
MS: The biggest challenge has been making sure others recognize that women can contribute to conversations and be taken seriously in this industry. I’ve been at hearings and even on construction sites where what I say or think has been dismissed.
I’ve learned how to assert authority and contribute to these projects, and work against what might be an inherent bias. A lot of times I’m the only woman in the room. That has been an interesting dynamic to overcome.
But I definitely think it’s getting better, and we’re hiring more women in civil engineering and other technical roles. I feel proud of pushing forward in this industry and setting the stage for younger girls who might be nervous about joining solar or becoming engineers. That’s a big part of why I love what I do.
What advice do you have for other women or girls interested in pursuing a career in civil engineering—and specifically the solar field?
MS: First, just ignore the stereotypes and don’t be afraid to break them.
Also, really pursue what is interesting to you and what you are passionate about. At the end of the day, it all comes down to what is going to make you happy. Doing something that makes you happy will give you a much bigger sense of accomplishment as opposed to something you’re not 100% into.
And don’t be discouraged by some of the perceived limitations you might feel about getting started in a STEM field. Stay true to what you want to do.
What’s been the best career advice you’ve received?
MS: Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Asking “why,” and not “what,” will be a lot more informative. It’s OK not to know everything, and asking questions shows that you’re willing to learn and want to understand concepts.