Who’s That Plumber?

Insights Nona At Gbny

Altieri is in its 64th year of providing engineering design services to architects and building owners and, to this day, I continue to be the only female plumbing designer in the firm’s history. 

I joined Altieri years ago with only a bit of experience in plumbing design. With the guidance of great mentors my knowledge and expertise in plumbing and fire sprinkler design grew. I left for a period of time to work for different firms – both smaller and larger than Altieri – and each of these firms had a female plumbing designer. Up until recently, I hadn’t thought much about being a female plumber in the a/e/c industry. I was the youngest of five growing up and did many of the same things my four older brothers did: played field hockey, softball, and basketball and rode my bike daredevil style on built-from-scrap wooden ramps. My career has simply been more of the same. However, being a member of Altieri’s Women in Engineering group and writing this blog post has me thinking more about it now.

During my 40+ year career, I’ve had the privilege of working alongside some amazing women – mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers, as well as structural and civil engineers, and quite a few exceptional architects. I have had the opportunity to sit in a conference room where every person at the table was female. This particular experience is one of the truly exceptional moments of my career. By working together, listening to each other, and creatively solving problems through discussion and collaboration, we created something great. The women in that room were talented, strong, intelligent, respectful, and capable of hearing everyone in the room.  I probably don’t have to say that this was very different from the more common only-woman-in-the-room experience.

Women account for approximately 14 percent of the engineering workforce. Women of color represent less than 4 percent of engineers and Black women comprise a mere 1.6 percent. I continue to learn more about the history of my race every day along with the contributions many great black women have made in STEM professions; women like Mary Jackson, Yvonne Clark, Mae Jemison, and Donna Auguste. I am a member of Altieri’s Team USA (United Strengths of Altieri), a voluntary internal resource team whose mission is to continue building a firm culture that values and promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion. A lot of what we focus on is outreach – introducing students to the engineering field – specifically aimed at young women and other underrepresented groups in our local community. I am particularly interested in our outreach efforts that have grown considerably over the past few years, because I am also a teacher.

As one of the senior plumbing designers at Altieri, I am a teacher and mentor to our more junior plumbing staff. I share my expertise, ah-ha moments, experiences with project teams, along with my mistakes and accomplishments. I review staff work, teach new standards, and design techniques. I teach them how to look at a design challenge with an outside-the-box view, rotating it on its corner axis to find the hidden solution or a new one. I share my experience working on multi-million square foot buildings, warehouses, historic restorations, K through 12 schools, university buildings, sound stages, Broadway theaters, single-family homes, apartment buildings, high rises and townhouses, and hospitals. 

When I am not teaching Altieri staff, I teach first- and seventh-grade religion classes at my church. I enjoy teaching because I get to teach and also learn new things. Beyond teaching, you’ll also find me singing in the alto section of the church choir or playing my conga drums or guitar. You might see me with a camera in hand, though not while I am driving my MGB convertible! Most likely, I’ll be spending time spoiling my nieces and nephews!

I am able to bring me to each new design challenge because of who I am outside of the office. Whether viewing through a lens, creating music, or sharing time and gifts with family and friends, I am inspired not so much by what I do, but by who I am while doing it. I am Nona Rudd and who I am is necessary to what I do well.

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