Engineering alum accepts no boundaries
By Jeff Stensland, email@example.com, 803-777-3686
When Theresa Hodge started her first engineering class at USC in the late 1970s, she wasn’t sure what she’d get out of it.
The A.C. Flora High School graduate always loved science and math, and had even traveled back and forth to USC during her senior year to take a calculus class not offered at the high school. But she thought a field like dentistry might be a better fit for her.
“I had a friend in engineering who encouraged me to come over and try it,” Hodge says. “I didn’t have any mentors within my family who were engineers, I didn’t know any engineers and, honestly, I didn’t really know what engineers did other than build bridges and roads.”
What she found at USC would help propel a pioneering career in a field still largely dominated men, earning accolades during her 32 years of work designing and leading municipal road, storm and wastewater projects.
Now a Director of Utilities at Columbia-based Civil Engineering Consulting Services (CECS) Hodge has won major awards in the engineering field, including South Carolina Young Engineer of the Year and Engineer of the Year. Most recently, she won the Service to the Profession Award from the South Carolina chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies.
“I didn’t set out to win awards,” she says. “I just wanted to something I loved.”
Only about 18 percent of bachelor’s level engineering students are women, according to the National Science Foundation. When Hodge entered USC’s engineering program, it was even less.
But far from feeling out of place, Hodge said she found a welcoming environment at USC. “There weren’t many women students back then, but I always felt comfortable there and I can’t say enough about the people at USC,” she says.
She also remembers the rigorous coursework and late night study sessions that go along with being an engineering major.
“It wasn’t easy,” she says. “When you’re an engineering student, you’ll have friends who have easier classes going out and you’ll have to stay behind and study. It is worth it, though.”
David Waugh, Dean Emeritus at the College of Engineering and Computing, says he remembers Hodge as a standout student, but not because of her gender.
“There was an always present enthusiasm and a radiation of self-confidence,” Waugh says. “ I think of her now not so much as one who set out to be a pioneer but as the consummate professional; always striving to challenge and improve herself while also being of service to the profession and to society. Certainly, she is a role model for women to pursue engineering careers.”
After graduating in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, Hodge spent 23 years at Wilbur Smith Associates, eventually becoming a vice president and director of the firm’s municipal group. Over the years Hodge has served on multiple boards, including her current position as chairwoman of the state licensing board for engineers and surveyors. In 2004, she was also the first woman officer of the South Carolina Society of Professional Engineers to become its president.
Waugh recalls running into Hodge at a national meeting while she served as president of that group.
“She represented our state exceptionally well and, I must admit, I felt a special sense of satisfaction in knowing that she was a USC graduate,” Waugh says.
Hodge joined CECS, a woman-owned company, in 2004. She is leading a new initiative that involves precision mapping of underground utilities and drainage systems for clients like the state Department of Transportation. She says she enjoys the collaborative spirit at CECS and never gets bored with the variety of work.
Hodge says women in engineering face many of the same issues women in any business environment face, including the need--or perceived need--to constantly prove your worth. But as a wife and mother of two children (one currently attends USC Aiken and the other USC Sumter), Hodge says women should not be deterred by the rigors of the profession.
“I think women do fairly well in engineering because of our organizational skills. We know how to prioritize and that’s really the key to everything,” she says.
About her decision not to become a dentist, she harbors no regrets and says anyone who likes problem solving should consider engineering.
“Engineering is such a broad field that you can do almost anything--there aren’t any boundaries.”
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