Your family doesn’t determine your career. But when it came to my professional calling, I didn’t have to look far for inspiration.

My grandfather is an electrical engineer, as is my dad. Both earned degrees at North Dakota State University and went on to successful careers. My mom also went to North Dakota State; she had two roommates who were female engineers — back when there were far fewer of those — and saw how they had full-time jobs lined up before they graduated. She always wished she had known engineering was an option for her going into college, so she made sure her daughters knew what she did not.

When my older sister and I were growing up, our mom recognized that we thrived in math and science, so she encouraged us to look into engineering careers. Engineers are trained in problem solving, and because of these skills, they have flexibility in their careers. They can go into sales, open their own businesses, get their MBA, go to medical school. Our mom always said, “A woman with an engineering degree can do anything.”

As it happens, both my sister and I enjoyed engineering and all of the technical design and application, which is part of how we both ended up starting our careers at Burns & McDonnell.

When we were still taking classes, our dad would say, “I can’t believe you like this stuff!” Well, we got it from him, seeing what he and Grandpa had done with their careers. We grew up visiting the lab in Grandpa’s basement, filled with all the electrical engineering equipment you could imagine: resistors, breadboards, multimeters and oscilloscopes. Then it was humorous to go to lab in college and say, “I’ve already seen all these things.” It was like coming home.

As a woman pursuing an engineering degree, there was never a time when I felt like I couldn’t make it through college. A lot of that motivation had to do with having a sister two years ahead of me in the same field. Role models are one of the biggest factors in success. I was blessed to have three of them in my family.

I went on to focus on power systems and got involved in design work for substations. Over time I’ve become more involved in the project management side, but it’s nice to bring a technical background as I work through the organizational aspects of this role.

Engineering is somewhat of a legacy in my family (along with attending North Dakota State). You do see engineering run in a lot of families, as some traits that are passed along lend themselves nicely to the field. While I think it would be incredible to continue our family legacy, there is no pressure for future generations to do so. I just hope to be an example of what a woman with an engineering degree can do in the world. If that inspires my family, I’m grateful!

Mackayla Headlee is an electrical engineer at Burns & McDonnell, providing solutions in substation electrical design. She’s a graduate of North Dakota State University and a member of the Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers.