Erin Venables and Oxana Scheming are the core of the engineering team at InFocus Energy Services Inc., a company from Alberta, Canada that designs specialized tooling in the energy industry. The two make a great team according to Oxana: “My position is a mechanical engineer, and Erin does most of the design. She’s our design master and I do calculations to verify whatever she designed, verifying if parts she designed are strong enough and can withstand required loads.” Oxana is a mother and a math whiz. Erin is a Judo enthusiast and part of a dog rescue. These two extraordinary women have great stories of their paths to success, and they are the recipients of SOLIDWORKS Women in Engineering for the month of September.
Oxana, originally from Kazakhstan, saw empowered women all around her at home. “Most of the women that I know in the USSR or former USSR countries, they work. Women are not just stay-at-home raising kids. They are doing both things. They are raising kids and they are working full time.”
Oxana attended St. Petersburg University in Russia and went on to earn her Ph.D. at the University of Alberta in Canada. She did research in using numerical models as a method of describing physical processes. When asked if she had any female role models who encouraged her to pursue a career in engineering, she replied, “My mom. She was a computer engineer programmer. Whether or not I would attend university was never discussed; I always knew I would be going there. That’s all. Then I went to university, I had a male professor, my supervisor. He was very good and he recommended me to go to Canada to attend the University of Alberta. At the university, I had two supervisors who were very helpful through the whole study and were constantly pushing me forward.”
Erin grew up in Canada, and when asked about her career path says, “I’ve been really blessed with a lot of luck. I’ve managed to be at the right place at the right time and that’s really how it’s evolved. For me, it’s been just luck ending up in an awesome position with an equally awesome company that provides me with plenty of freedom and challenge.”
As humble as Erin is about her accomplishments, it is clear that she has put in countless hours of hard work to get to where she is today. A coworker noted that Erin’s work ethic is what caused her to be made Senior Engineer at a previous company in just a year, and now she is in charge of the Design and Sustaining Engineering staff at InFocus. He also discussed her adept Judo abilities, mentioning that “Erin would regularly be matched against higher-level black belts in her category, whom she would soundly defeat with tenacity and skill.”
Both Erin and Oxana have been working with CAD for many years. Oxana gained experience with drawings in a machine shop that she worked in. She now uses SOLIDWORKS at InFocus, and although she claims she is no expert, she knows how to get help if she needs it. “I started using SOLIDWORKS a lot when I joined InFocus. I use it enough, but I know there are quite a few people who are way better than I when it comes to SOLIDWORKS. I definitely want to learn more about it, but I definitely can get by. If I need help, I ask for help.
Erin had a childhood goal of going into architectural design, which led her to take a CAD class at a local college, “Like I said, architecture was kind of the hopeful end goal but life and circumstances change. I thought at least I should take the engineering design drafting program through a local college because my uncle was a draftsperson. He focused on piping and he was really successful. My dad was pushing me to take the program. The program itself was generic drafting in which you get trained in every aspect of design, mechanical, architectural, and geographical CAD.”
The program that Erin took is how she realized her skills in 3D modeling, “When I was in college, I had a mechanical drafting professor who had been doing it for close to 40 years. Just before I graduated, he took me aside and said, ‘You know what? I have never met somebody in all my teaching years with the 3D visualization capacities you have. You can look at something in 3D and convert it to 2D or back and forth faster and easier than anyone I’ve ever taught before.’ I think that is the skill I had that has gotten me to where I am today.”
Becoming Engineers and Designers
Both women had different experiences when it came to being females in a male-dominated field. Oxana rarely felt like she was not welcome: “The class I was a part of when I was at University in St. Petersburg, had almost a 35/65 ratio. 65 percent guys, 35 percent girls. It’s never like I never was alone in this field. All the professors were respectful. I never felt out of place by being a woman in this field.”
Erin, on the other hand, did notice some opposition when trying to pursue a career in engineering. “The teachers, on one hand, tell you ‘you can be anything you want to be.’ Then you’re also getting told that you shouldn’t really want those things.” She went on to say, “I definitely had some struggles in the very beginning and a lot of challenges. Luckily, I think girls now, women now aren’t going to have those same challenges. It’s evolved well in the last 10 years that I’ve been working, and hopefully, they’ll never have those same experiences.”
Where do Erin and Oxana see themselves and their careers in the next 10 years? For Oxana, her goals are to continue to learn all she can and be a role model for her daughter. “That is a very deep question. I’ve been at my current position for a little bit more than a year and a half. Every day there is something new to learn. I go to the library very often and I have so many books on our shelves. It’s a constant learning curve. When you scale models up and down and you repeatedly do similar calculations. Then we get new projects, which changes everything. So it is definitely a constant learning curve and constant personal development. Basically, what I want to be is the best example for my daughter and to show her that whatever she wants is possible. You just need to work on it. That is probably the biggest goal for me in 10 years, basically be the best that I can and just keep going.”
Erin keeps a sense of humor about the future: “I stopped making plans for myself years ago. They say, you make a plan and God laughs. It’s so true.”
Advice for the Next Generation of Female Engineers
What advice do Erin and Oxana have for girls looking to go into the field of engineering? Erin advises: “Make sure you enjoy whatever you choose. Enjoy what you do, because life’s just too short.” Oxana urges: “Do what you want. Don’t just listen to what other people tell you to do. If you have a passion for something, do it. Just have enough perseverance and spend a lot of long hours trying to learn and find solutions to problems. Anything is possible.”
Have someone in mind? You can nominate the next recipient for the SOLIDWORKS Women in Engineering Program, honoring the outstanding achievements that women are accomplishing day to day in the engineering community. Find out more information or get started today!