Spotlight: Susan Schierwagen, Vice President for Coupling & Fire Suppression Systems at Victaulic
Friday, June 23, 2017 is International Women in Engineering Day, a day that according to the Women’s Engineering Society “focuses attention on the amazing careers in engineering and technical roles for girls, and allows us to celebrate the achievements of our outstanding women engineers.”
In honor of this day, the American Fire Sprinkler Association spoke to a woman who is leading the way in this industry, Victaulic’s Vice President for Coupling & Fire Suppression Systems Susan Schierwagen.
Schierwagen became interested in engineering early in life. Her father was in the electrical contracting business, and because of this she received exposure to and hands-on learning within the construction industry. Her father took her to job sites, and she found that she liked being there. She discovered that she had an aptitude for math and science, and she enjoyed solving problems, so she decided to study civil engineering at Tufts University.
“There weren’t a lot of women in engineering at the time, only between five and six percent of women were represented,” says Schierwagen. “It was a good place for me to be able to lead and make a difference. It’s been an exciting field for me, and as I’ve built my career it’s been rewarding to see the number of woman in engineering grow.”
In 2011, Schierwagen began working for Victaulic. She works every day to drive business growth through management of a broad product portfolio, and has led several product launches. Her favorite part of her job is when she can help customers solve some of the world’s most challenging construction projects, such as the Hudson Yards project. Hudson Yards is one of the most innovative and largest real-estate development project in New York City since Rockefeller Center. It consists of a number of high-rise buildings constructed over 30 live train tracks, three rail tunnels and the new Gateway tunnel. Schierwagen worked collaboratively to develop solutions that are being used to withstand the uniquely high temperatures generated from rail exhaust systems within the Yards. They developed a Cerakote-coated mechanical pipe joint instead of welded joints to protect the gasket from the unique temperature demands.
“We worked closely with the engineers and contractors to provide an innovative and customer-centric solution,” says Schierwagen. “We want to be the innovators. We are always looking for what’s next – how can we continue to help and grow. Innovation is continuous. The minute you innovate something, you’re looking for the next step to innovate and make that solution even better.”
Part of being an innovator is playing to your own advantages, and Schierwagen always saw being the only woman in the room as nothing but an advantage. “You always have to look at your differences as a positive,” she says. “I’ve gone into coal mines and gold mines and places where there typically aren’t a lot of women. You just have to roll up your sleeves and not be intimidated by the situation, just go in and do the job. You just have to be able to be comfortable and get yourself where you need to be to be successful.”
In 2014, Schierwagen was honored with the Women of Influence Award from Lehigh Valley Business, and she does not take that honor lightly. She is working to help expand the number of women in engineering. As a member of the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley Women’s Leadership Council and the Society of Women Engineers, she takes it upon herself to personally mentor younger women at Victaulic. She travels with them into the field so that they can see what the fire protection industry is all about, because she knows it’s one thing to study engineering, and entirely another to be able to apply it in the field.
For companies that are looking to attract and retain more female engineers, Schierwagen suggests that they work to empower the women that are already within the company, give them a support system and encourage cross-functional collaboration so women can develop, learn and advocate across the organization. For women looking to get into engineering, Schierwagen’s advice is to take risks and not be intimidated. Take internships to get exposure to the industry, and always speak up. “Use your voice, take a seat at the table and don’t be apprehensive to jump in and become part of the solution,” says Schierwagen. “Everyone brings a unique perspective and yours might just be the one that is needed to make the team successful!”