Now a mechanical engineer and Director of Operations at Net Positive Consulting Engineers in Clovis, California, Hannah Brigdon, P.E., has a great career. Still, without a blunt conversation with an engineering professor, she might have gone in a different direction.
Hannah had just entered the engineering program at her university but wasn’t sure it was the right choice for her. Without any family members in the field, she had no frame of reference and felt like a fish out of water; she considered a change in majors, but needed a form signed to transfer out of the program.
“I met with my advisor and asked him to sign the paper,” said Brigdon. “And he said, no, you need to sit down and talk to me. He told me I was comparing myself to everybody else and everyone else’s learning curve and to just stick with it. He quickly became my favorite professor, and I still visit him to this day.”
In time, Hannah learned that engineering is both hard and fun, and sometimes she had to trudge through the hard stuff to get to those fun parts.
“That’s what makes engineering so wonderful,” she said. “I liked some of the things I studied and disliked others. But it gave me perseverance, the grit I needed to push through the things I wasn’t fond of to get to the things I really love.”
Even before graduating from college, she started working at an Architecture and Engineering firm in Fresno. As an engineer in training, she did a lot of production, drafting, and calculations. But she also had to start learning from other people in the trades; those conversations weren’t always easy.
“You get to a point where you just have to humble yourself and say: This is what I have, and I don’t even know what I’m supposed to ask. Can you walk me through this? Can we sit here and learn this together?”
Creating Net Positive Solutions
Hannah’s supervisor at the A&E firm, Jonathan Schlundt, played a big role in helping her reach out to others and learn the business. A few years later, Schlundt started Net Positive; a small firm focused on innovative solutions for mechanical and plumbing projects. Brigdon soon joined him.
“I was so excited, and that excitement hasn’t changed since the first day,” she said. “There’s something about coming to the office and feeling like everyone’s committed to doing a good job and focused on providing net positive benefits for our clients and community.”
Giving back to their community is a big part of Net Positive’s mission, providing pro bono work for local nonprofits. Recently, they helped a home for women and children in need, which offers emergency housing for women and children, upgrade to a full air-conditioned complex.
“They had terrible swamp coolers, so we designed better air conditioning systems for them,” said Brigdon. “Jon took this project to East Fresno Rotary and other contractors. People donated equipment and services, to the point of helping them reach full funding.”
Hannah enjoys being part of a cohesive and passionate team. On one occasion, Schlundt proposed another community-focused project: helping convert a hotel into low-income housing. The catch was everyone had to work through the weekend.
“We walked into a conference room, sat down, and asked ourselves, are we willing to do this? said Brigdon. “We made that decision as a team, and all of us were in the office all weekend. There was such a feeling of camaraderie that we were all doing it together. I wish everyone could have that feeling when they’re at work.”
Counting on Trane
Another central value at Net Positive is education. Hannah, Jon Schlundt, and the rest of the team are constantly looking at new regulations and technologies and projecting how they might impact their client’s projects. Trane helps the firm gather information and design systems that meet new regulations.
“Jon and I are so committed to new learning opportunities,” said Brigdon. “Having a local Trane representative who can share new products and other information has been huge. They’ve been excellent collaborators, always bringing the resources we need. That’s been big for us to have somebody we can reach out to, and they’re always there for us.”
“The creative journey can be a laborious and barren task, especially when we can jump to a conclusion that has always worked in the past,” added Schlundt. “In today’s environment, however, being creative is an expectation. The best collaborators to explore this journey with are those who value innovation, are humble, and are willing step outside the box with us.
“Lucky for Net Positive, the Trane representatives have been willing to explore this journey, and in turn delivering creative project that achieve client goals of energy preservation, shortened lead times, and obtaining additional grant funding.”
Sharing What She Has Learned
A few years ago, Hannah came full circle and started giving guest lectures on project management principles at her alma mater. She liked to share her experiences at an engineering firm, particularly the importance of solid preparation and good communication.
“I think those soft skills are things engineering students need to know as they get into their careers,” said Brigdon. “I was able to share some of my experiences as a project manager and my ideas about what quality means because that is so important in our industry.”
Hannah is also paying it forward in other ways, particularly mentoring women engineers. She recognizes all the skills she has acquired, many of which did not come easily. She knows a kind word at the right moment can make a huge difference.
“I have the benefit of working with so many young women who are just coming into the industry,” said Brigdon. “My focus is helping each one build confidence as an engineer first, not as a female-engineer. It can be an uphill battle in a male dominated industry, especially when you are comparing your experience to those around you. So, when they say, ‘I just don’t know if I did a good job,’ I tell them what I see. They’re doing fine, and they should give themselves more credit.”