Office of Economic Impact and Diversity

Women @ Energy: Rhonda Merchut

August 19, 2015

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Rhonda Merchut is an engineer at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). She attended the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in architecture.

Rhonda Merchut is an engineer at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). She attended the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in architecture.

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Rhonda Merchut is an engineer and project manager for design and construction of conventional facilities at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). She attended the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in architecture.

1) What inspired you to work in STEM?

While in college, I did not consider going into architecture for several years because I did not think I could do the math required for the engineering. After trying just about every field that did not require math and was terrible disappointed in them, I finally tried an engineering class. What I discovered is that if I could see where the math was leading to, it made sense and was easy to do. I ended up majoring in  structural engineering.

2) What excites you about your work at the Department of Energy?

The best part of the job is the variety of work that I do on any given day. I can spend my mornings poring over spreadsheets for budgets and schedules. In the afternoon I may be out in the field evaluating a construction issue, or meeting with future tenants in the buildings to finalize their very specific requirements. Other activities include preparation of planning documents for future facilities, preparation of drawings, attending or leading meetings. As a project manager I am responsible for all day-to-day activities to ensure a project is on schedule, on budget, and provides the scope of work required for the facility.

3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

Girls need to be reached as early as the second and third grades to counteract the “girls can’t do math” stereotype they are hearing (often from their own mothers!). The encouragement needs to continue all the way through high school.

4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

Remember that the work you do in a classroom does not necessarily reflect the work you will do on the job. If math appears dry and boring in the classroom, it can come alive when it reflects a real-world solution such as a curved building or a soaring high-rise.

5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?

Reading and gardening.