Engineers Week: Meet Sydney!

Name: Sydney Preston

Engineering Discipline: Process Design

Years in the field: 1.5 years

Hobbies outside of work: Listening to music or going to concerts, spending time with friends and family, visiting one of Grand Rapids’ many breweries

Fun fact about yourself: I got my first and only speeding ticket driving back to Michigan from California after MSU won the Rose Bowl.

When did you know you wanted to be an engineer and what drew you to your specific engineering discipline?
I spent my first year of college as a biochemistry major. During finals week of my second semester I read a National Geographic article about engineers focusing on biomimicry and decided that I should pursue a degree in engineering. Within one day of reading that article, I switched my major to biosystems engineering and have never questioned that decision. Through my major, I was exposed to food manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, water and wastewater treatment, ecosystem engineering, biomedical engineering, and bioenergy. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to work in engineering consulting which lead to my current position in the process group at F&V.

What would most people be surprised to learn about the engineering field?
Technical skills aren’t everything. Communication skills are equally important. The ability to communicate effectively is necessary to gain client’s trust, communicate with regulatory offices, have difficult conversations regarding budgets or other issues, etc.

What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on at F&V, and why?
Kinross – It was my first big project that I really got to contribute to and it is a very unique project. The project involves using food waste as a supplemental feedstock for an anaerobic digestion system at a wastewater treatment plant. The biogas produced from the wastewater treatment plant solids and food waste will be used to power a generator to create heat and electricity for the plant.

How has working at F&V helped shape your life and/or career?
Working at F&V has ingrained in my head the importance of maintaining relationships. With so many of our clients being repeat clients, it’s clear that the relationships I build now with clients, equipment reps, etc. will likely follow me throughout my career so it is important to put in the effort to make and maintain those quality relationships.

If you could give your younger self advice about engineering, what would it be?
I would remind myself to speak up, question everything, take ownership of my work, and be confident with what I know.

What are some challenges and triumphs you’ve experienced as female engineer?
As a female in a male dominated industry, you’re bound to experience some bias at some point in your career. What’s been especially challenging for me is figuring out how to handle instances of biasness when it is unconscious and with people you respect. I’m sure every female in the industry has a handful or more of stories where they’ve experienced some amount of unconscious biasness. I am also starting to collect stories and am learning how to understand and work through them. Thankfully, I have also experienced triumphs because I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by people willing to listen and understand my perspective. I also am lucky to be at such an early point in my career at a time when society as a whole is looking closely at the topic of gender equality. There’s definitely momentum for positive change and I hope I can contribute to that effort within my spheres of influence.

How do you personally advocate for women engineers?
I’ve been building my own network of women in engineering among the women I interact with. This has happened naturally as I’ve gotten to know people, but lately I’m working on making a deliberate effort to expand that network of women further and use it as a resource. It’s a great way to swap stories and learn from others’ experiences. It’s useful in identifying common challenges and brainstorming ways we can collectively work through them. It builds a sense of community and belonging, which is very rewarding. Having a network of people I can relate to and am comfortable with gives me more confidence, motivates me to speak up when a voice is needed, and inspires me to be bolder. If other women in my network can feel this same energy and the network continues to grow, I think a positive change is inevitable.

Check out more about Introduce a Girl to Engineering