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Q&A with Engineer Emma Wong In Recognition of Women’s Equality Day

emmawongEmma Wong is a chemical engineer working in the agency’s Spent Fuel Alternative Strategies Division. Previously, she worked in the Division of Engineering as a technical reviewer for license amendments and license renewals. Emma has worked at the NRC for eight years. She holds have a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of California, San Diego.

Q1. What are your job responsibilities?

A1. My current responsibilities include:

·        Resolving technical issues related to extended storage of reactor spent nuclear fuel

·        Presenting at technical conferences and standards committees regarding extended storage of spent nuclear fuel

·        Developing analytic capabilities to assess hazards of advanced reprocessing

·        Interacting with the public stakeholders and industry representatives on licensing activities

·        Monitoring research projects for technical accuracy

Q2. What do you like most about your job?

A2. I am always learning something new and interesting. It can range from going on an inspection, audit, interacting with the public, learning a new skill, or mentoring others. Working for a regulatory agency allows me the opportunity to use my engineering degree as a foundation for learning and understanding complex processes in order to make reasonable and informed decisions to protect the public health and safety.

Q3. What prompted you to get into engineering as a career?

A3. When I was growing up in Michigan, I was surrounded by an engineering environment and engineers. In addition, my parents and teachers promoted learning and were very supportive of my future career paths. Since I was very good at math and science and liked to understand how things worked, I chose to explore engineering. To make this decision, I took a series of seminars to learn about each type of engineering and settled on Chemical Engineering. However, it was a close call between Chemical Engineering and Nuclear Engineering.

Q4. There tends to be fewer girls/women in STEM majors and jobs. Did you face special challenges on your road to becoming an engineer?

A4. Every engineering field faces unique challenges. There are many people who may not take women engineers seriously, and to overcome this perception, there is another perception that women must overachieve to prove themselves. I have learned that persistence, acknowledgement of weaknesses, and focusing on a problem calmly is the best way to stay on course and earn respect.

Also, there were not a lot of role models for women in engineering when I was growing up. There are many more now. It is important to find role models and mentors and talk to them about how they succeeded. I found that participating in professional societies such as Society of Women Engineers and Women in Science and Engineering allowed greater access to resources and colleagues.

Q5. What are your long-term career goals?

A5. My long-term goals are to be influential in the decision-making processes and influencing the future goals of the NRC. There will always be challenges and barriers with any goal, but since the agency is an avid supporter of the diversity and inclusion goals, I believe that many of these challenges and barriers are being addressed.

Q6. What advice would you give to girls/young women considering a career as an engineer?

A6. I have mentored many young women about the career path to becoming an engineer. While it can prove to be challenging, it is an area where women can thrive. Here is some of the advice I have provided to others:

·        Don’t be afraid to try new things, such as different types of engineering majors, internships. Keep trying until you find what fits best. Besides knowing what you want to do, it is also good to know what you don’t want to do.

·        Have multiple mentors and advisors. As you grow, don’t be afraid to find new mentors who fit your current needs. Besides, it’s always nice to have someone to talk to.

·        Engineering and science are not scary. All the numbers, symbols, and complex equations may make it seem that way, but all engineers and scientists had to start somewhere — one equation and theory at a time.

·        Being an engineer is a good career path. But if you find out later that something else fits better, an engineering education is a good foundation for many other careers, including medicine, law, business and regulation.

In 1971, at the request of Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY), the U.S. Congress designated Aug. 26 as “Women’s Equality Day.”

 

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