Celebrating the Women of Atlas

Mar 31, 2022

From monitoring chemical exposure in manufacturing plants to leading the remedial operations for complex environmental projects, the women of Atlas are making a difference for their clients and their communities. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we asked a panel of Atlas professionals to share their insights and knowledge.

Participants included:

  • Kari Paritz, Environmental Specialist
  • Robyn Steiner, MSPH CSP Principal Certified Industrial Hygienist/Industrial Hygiene Department Manager
  • Karlene Barron, Director of Communications
  • Kelly Hurstak, Area Manager
  • Dawn Bockoras, Group Manager, Engineering & Remedial Operations

Here’s what they had to say:

What is your favorite part of being in the AEC and Environmental industries?

Kari Paritz: No week is the same. I wasn’t built for a full-time office gig. This industry allows me to see parts of New England I generally wouldn’t and meet an assortment of folks.

Robyn Steiner: I enjoy the variety of work environments and tasks that I encounter daily. I have been inside the old London Bridge, watched them put together rocket parts, monitored chemical exposures while semiconductor chips were being manufactured, monitored for mercury vapors while digging in the area of a historic mercury mine, participated in SWAT training (monitoring noise and particulate exposures) and learned all about plating practices. The knowledge that I am helping bring people back home safely and in good health after working all day is the best part of my job – the many varied experiences are the bonus.

Karlene Barron: I would call this my favorite and often my most challenging. Working with engineers who see straight lines, and helping them recognize the curves of those lines. I have grown up in the industry, working with engineers since 1994. It is often a challenge to convince them that things are not always black and white, but that there are a variant of colors in between. It is often sheer joy when they see the results that collaboration and working together brings.

Kelly Hurstak: My favorite part of the AEC industry is the people. The AEC industry is filled with talented individuals from diverse technical backgrounds. It is exciting and fulfilling to work on dynamic and creative teams to make our environment safer and more sustainable.

Dawn Bockoras: Making the most out of every opportunity to develop solutions for my clients. I also take great pride in making a positive impact on the environment.

How did you become interested are involved in this field of work?

Robyn Steiner: I actually got into industrial hygiene due to a family member. My mother’s cousin was a chemical engineer working for DOW chemicals in early 1970’s when he was asked to look at this new legislation, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), and to make sure that the facility was in compliance. He was an industrial hygienist for DOW and IBM for the rest of his career. I had planned on being a medical laboratory technician, running blood samples, when I graduated high school. [My mother’s cousin] told me that was a dead-end job that was being taken over by automation/machinery and that, with my interest in science and math, I should follow in his footsteps. He helped assure that I took the proper courses for my Bachelor’s degree and recommended colleges for my Master’s degree. Since I have been doing this for over 25 years, guess that he was right in that industrial hygiene would interest me!

Karlene Barron: As a communications professional, having worked in social service PR in DC, I wanted to give back to the community, volunteer and make a difference. Moving to Atlanta, I began looking at working for the state. The opportunity arose to work with Georgia DOT, and it has been the best decision. There has been such personal and professional growth in my journey, and I am forever grateful that I was able to take that path.

Dawn Bockoras: A professor in college helped me understand how I could utilize my chemical engineering degree to work in an area I’m passionate about, environmental remediation.

What advice do you have to an aspiring young woman interested in the AEC industry?

Kari Paritz: Be confident in the knowledge and the skill set you bring to the table. Do not be intimidated by others. Your input matters. Set boundaries and stick to them. If you can’t find a career you love, find something you are good at, and better yet, find the team that makes it great.

Robyn Steiner: It is a great industry that has many positive aspects and opportunities. You are able to help people and know that you are getting involved in a career that will always be in demand. When I started, there were maybe 10% women in the professional groups that I joined. I was often the only female in a room during meetings. However, that is changing the mix is definitely more 50/50, with many women taking leadership roles. My advice is to try different things and get involved in multiple projects as there are many different job niches in the AEC industry – find out what appeals to you. And definitely get involved in professional organizations through volunteering for committees, presenting at conferences, etc. There is no benefit to being in an organization if you aren’t actively participating. I have been secretary, treasurer and director in the professional groups that I belong to and have benefited from the growing network of contacts.

Karlene Barron: For the communications professional, be open and learn how to think strategically and then execute. I often tell young people that I mentor, you are never in a meeting to show that pretty smile and take notes. LISTEN! And then figure out WHEN you should tell the story, HOW to present that story, WHO should hear it, and most important, WHAT is the best way to tell that story. The AEC industry is very close knit, so network, introduce yourself, build relationship and then nurture them. Relationships are essential to everything that we do.

Kelly Hurstak: Learn to say YES! Anytime someone offers you the chance to get involved or to try something new say YES! Don’t be afraid that you don’t have the time, the skills or are unsure of what the opportunity entails. You will learn new skills, foster new relationships and be exposed to opportunities you never even considered.

Dawn Bockoras: The world is facing complex environmental challenges. Having diverse, fresh perspectives to drive innovation is going to be key to solving those challenges.

We hope their diverse perspectives and advice have added value to your day as they do to ours. 

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