Vale Anderson was intimidated by the thought of going to college during her early twenties. At the time she was unaware she wanted to earn a degree in the the science, technology, engineering and math related fields.
Five years later in 2013, Anderson graduated from MSU Denver with a degree in electrical engineering technology, a minor in mathematics and a concentration in power control systems.
Anderson recalled her first semester of school enrolled at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton. At ACC she realized in a short time that she was not ready for school. She spent the next year working for attorneys during a boom in the foreclosure industry, only to learn that the foreclosure business wasn’t for her. She had to do something different. She decided to give school a second chance.
During her initial semester at ACC, Anderson took a placement test to see where she was regarding math and English in order to verify whether or not she needed to take any remedial courses. Anderson tested into college algebra. She didn’t think anything of it, but the school told her the results were outstanding and no one ever tested this high in math after being out of school for so long.
The seed had been planted, and she realized math was something in which she excelled.
“I had associated math with being a nerd and not cool. At this point I was an adult and I was like ‘maybe I can learn math, maybe I could not care what other people think,’” Anderson said.
The next nudge into a STEM related career came from one of Anderson’s math teachers, who she described as a strict, opinionated, conservative retired marine. While she struggled with math labs, he asked her if she had considered working in the science and technology related fields.
“Some people think that being an engineer or anything math related requires some innate talent,” Anderson said. “That is not the case, it requires you to be extremely stubborn or to be mule headed. He saw that I was stubborn and interested and made a suggestion.”
She was surprised by his remarks and they remained at the forefront of her mind. When she enrolled at MSU Denver she researched careers that were available to her that were math related.
Anderson was frequently the only female in her classes, but after awhile she stopped paying attention to that. She was more interested in what she was learning. The relationship with her advisers and mentors was very important. In addition to the advising she received, Anderson spoke about the uniqueness of MSU Denver.
“What Metro does really well is that a lot of our professors work in the industry, so they have the ability to help us network to help us get internships to help us meet people, to introduce us to people to interview with and to start forming those relationships,” Anderson said.
The relationships that Anderson built before, during and after earning her engineering degree are pivotal to her successes today. Her first job after graduating was in an entry level position
that she learned about from networking in a senior design class. Networking is important to Anderson because the engineering community is small.
After years of desensitizing herself to the fact that she was often the only female working on a jobsite for a client, she doesn’t notice it now as much as she used to. There were times when it was difficult for her to decide the best way to handle a situation without making a fuss or drawing attention to herself. Her initial response was that she had no shame in doing any type of job, but
knowing when to stand up for herself was essential to getting her job done.
On the rare occasion there was confusion as to her role out in the field, she reminded herself that she did not go to school to clean construction trailers, she went to school to be an engineer. She has learned not to overthink or beat herself up, but rather be assertive and proactive, but not aggressive. Setting boundaries and voicing needs is an art often misinterpreted as being bossy, and it can be hard but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
“I have no problem saying what I mean and if I think I’m missing something, I will say, ‘I am missing something,’” Anderson said.
Now in her early thirties, Anderson is one of two female engineers in her office at Salient Power Engineering. Anderson also serves as industrial board member of the MSU Denver Electrical Engineering Technology Advisory Board.