Taking Ownership of Your Career

Since my time at North Carolina State University (NC State), where I graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in sustainable energy in 2017, I’ve always sought out ways I can progress in my field and expand my knowledge. From my earliest days in college, I knew I wanted to work in the field of sustainability and/or renewable energy, but I wasn’t exactly sure what role I wanted to pursue. However, during my last year in college, I found my interest in the built environment and my passion for wanting to help create more sustainable designs and make buildings operate more efficiently. Although I didn’t immediately work on the projects focused around sustainability, that didn’t stop me from finding ways to connect with sustainability professionals both within and outside of Dewberry, which eventually led me to where I am today: an assistant project manager with a focus on sustainability.

While my professional mentors, managers, and colleagues have certainly helped me get to where I am today, I believe that taking ownership of my own career is equally as important." Natalie MacDonald

Learn, Absorb, Engage, and Grow

From what I’ve learned over the last five years, there are four keys to taking ownership of your career, which can help you reach your professional goals and get you into a role that you can thrive in. Thankfully, I feel that I’ve always had the support of my managers and corporate leadership to chase the career path that I’m passionate about. Learning, absorbing, engaging, and growing have been immensely impactful.

  • Learn: learn everything you can about the role you really want. Who is in that role now? What did they do to get there? What goes into being successful in that role? What knowledge should I have to be a leader in that role? Learning all there is to know about a role and its requirements is an important first step. It’s the one I took when I was looking for my first job out of college and continue to do today.
  • Absorb: take in all the knowledge you can from those around you and who have gone before you. Be a sponge! Take courses and trainings, attend lunch-and-learns, ask questions, volunteer to take things on, attend conferences. Before you know it, opportunities that you might not have considered will present themselves to you, and with the knowledge you have gained, you’ll have a better understanding of how you might look in that role. While starting out your career, just say yes to things! People will begin to see you as a go-to person for help.
  • Engage: being an active member of professional organizations is key to taking ownership of your career. I got engaged early on with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and have held numerous leadership positions with our local chapter, including my current role as president. Being involved in ASHRAE has probably been the most beneficial thing I’ve done in my career and has led to so many open doors that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to walk through if it weren’t for my willingness to engage. However you engage, networking and putting yourself out there early on will set you apart from your peers.
  • Grow: looking for ways to grow my career and myself has continued to help me succeed at Dewberry. I took the professional engineering exam as soon as I was able, which for me was shortly after I graduated. I still have plenty of room and many years of growth ahead of me and will continue to grow and learn through my career. I have plans to get a variety of certifications focused on energy management and sustainability that will continue to help me grow in the field I’m most passionate about.
Natalie MacDonald

Professional and Community Involvement

While I’ve intentionally sought out some of my professional involvement, like ASHRAE, I’ve been fortunate enough to be presented with other opportunities. Last year, I was appointed by Governor Roy Cooper to the North Carolina Building Code Council, where I help develop updates for the state building codes, including the energy and mechanical code. While I love contributing to the technical side of the industry in addition to my day-to-day role, I also love being a part of encouraging and inspiring the next generation of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals, particular young women. Earlier this year, a colleague asked if I’d present to his daughter’s Girl Scout troop about my job, and I couldn’t have been happier to share my experiences with them. The troop had tons of questions and was so engaged with the presentation. It’s important for girls at a young age to see someone they can relate to in a STEM field and encourage them to stay engaged with math and science.

My Advice to You

My advice to any young professional, whether you’re a middle school student interested in a career in engineering, or you’ve just graduated and you’re about to start your first full-time job, is to find a gap and fill it. Say yes to opportunities that present themselves to you. While I’ve known for a long time that sustainability is my passion, I’ve found so many other things I’m passionate about just by stepping into a role that needed to be filled.