Mary Wurst is a lighting designer and electrical engineer at DLR Group. Her design philosophy revolves around seeing light, whether natural and artificial, as the soul of any space. A chance encounter with a cadaver arm ended up steering her toward getting an engineering degree, and she’s now a Senior Associate at DLR Group. We discuss the importance of exposing high school students to different careers, the challenges that mid-level professionals face, and why firms should be less focused on the rigidity of the 9-5.
How Mary ended up going to engineering school
Why it's important to expose students to different career options
What made her join an integrated design firm, instead of working for a strictly engineering firm
How she decided to become an electrical engineer
What it was like advancing from Intern to Senior Associate at the same office
On having independence at work
What she loves most about being an engineer
The biggest challenges that mid-level professionals face
On struggling with what your career aspirations are
How she balances working full time and having two young children, and whether or not she considered not working
Taking her son to the grand opening of a project
Why firms should be less concerned with employees working strict 9-5 hours
LIGHTNING ROUND Q&A
WHAT IS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE JUST STARTING OUT IN THEIR CAREER?
Ask questions and take notes. That was the biggest thing that I started doing, because you just get so much information all the time. Sometimes I'll be talking to one of our interns, and I want to tell them, "Go ahead and write this down, I'll take a break!" There is so much to learn and understand how what you're doing is influencing everybody else's systems and your own systems.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU FEEL UNFOCUSED OR OVERWHELMED?
Two things. One of them is just make a list. The other thing that I've actually started a little over a year ago is that I really prioritize my physical fitness and health. It involves me getting up at 4:45am every day, but I get up and I exercise, and I'm the only one awake, and just take that time for myself. Even when I get into crunch time on a project, I try to still prioritize that time.
WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU FIND REALLY INSPIRING?
I would say my children. They definitely have fresh eyes on everything. By the time I'm at a grand opening for a project, I can maybe be not that excited about it. It could have been in design for 6 months to a year, and a couple years of construction where things can get a little bit messy going back and forth. So by the end you're sometimes ready to just move on to something else, but seeing these projects through my son's eyes is definitely fun to see.
WHAT'S A FUNNY OR INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOURSELF?
I come from a very big family. I don't know how interesting that is but I'm the youngest of five kids. My children have 14 cousins just on my side of the family. It's very fun seeing all their different family dynamics and how that influences me and what I do, and it's fun to talk to all the kids about being an engineer. Everybody comes from different backgrounds, which I think brings a new perspective to their work life, so that's mine.
MENTOR SHOUT OUT! WHO IS SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN A GREAT MENTOR TO YOU?
Dr Ece Erdogmus. She's a structural faculty member in architectural engineering at the University of Nebraska. She pulled me aside my sophomore year of college, and I became a research assistant for her. She showed us all the opportunities that were available. She's still a great friend of mine and a great support for me, even though I didn't even end up graduating with a structural engineering degree!