- Engineering Director Ashley Yeh breaks barriers in one of the world’s most male-dominated fields.
- Yeh brings more than 15 years of engineering and wastewater experience to MetroConnects.
- Yeh has been instrumental during MetroConnects’ historic consolidation of six special purpose districts into MetroConnects’ service area.
Studies have shown that engineering just might be the most male-dominated profession throughout the world. In 2019, only about 16 percent of engineers in the United States identified as women. But Ashley Yeh does not let that statistic stop her. When she arrived in the United States from Taiwan in 1998, she steadfastly pursued a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a master’s degree in environmental engineering from North Carolina State University. From there, Yeh brought her expertise first to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources and DynCorp International, where she worked as an environmental coordinator. She then moved over to Berkeley County Water and Sanitation (BCWS), where she worked for 14 years, first as a Project Engineer and then as the Engineering Director. In June 2022, MetroConnects welcome Yeh as Engineering Director. She has since helped Metro grow through the historic process of consolidating six special-purpose districts into MetroConnects. Today, Yeh and the engineering team manage the addition of more than 700 linear miles of sewer collection pipes, numerous pump stations and more than 50,000 new customers into our service area. This Women’s History Month, as we celebrate our own Women in Wastewater, MetroConnects would like to recognize the tremendous contributions that Yeh brings to our team and learn a little more about what inspires her perseverance.
What inspires you to work in engineering?
I like working with numbers and data. I feel that engineering is interactive, hands-on, fun and innovative. And engineering comes with endless career paths and growth. There are so many different fields of engineering (civil, chemical, electrical, etc.), and within each field, there are many different paths — research and development, manufacturing, design, construction, academic, management, etc.
What brought you to the wastewater industry?
I didn’t choose the wastewater industry in the beginning. My previous work before BCWS was in the fields of pollution prevention and solid waste. Fate brought me to the wastewater industry, and that’s where I settled. I think that the water/wastewater profession is often underappreciated, despite the fact that our work is so important to public health and the environment. When a bridge engineer builds a beautiful bridge, people see and admire it. When a software engineer builds a new app, people use it and appreciate it. But people don’t think about us when they have safe drinking water and when their sewer goes down the pipe. People only think about us when their water tastes bad or when they have a sewer backup. People often don’t realize that there is so much science, technology, and hard work behind the scenes to bring safe drinking water to them and to convey and treat the wastewater. Water is one of our most valuable natural resources and the main element of the earth and our body. I enjoy this job knowing what I do has a huge impact on the community and the environment.
What brought you to MetroConnects?
Josh Hawkins, MetroConnects’ Chief Technology Officer, and I worked together at BCWS. He told me about the consolidation process and about MetroConnects’ fast-growing systems, the wet weather program with Renewable Water Resources (ReWa), and the many other challenges Metro was experiencing and is now facing ahead. These all sounded like interesting challenges and good opportunities for a growing utility, and I want to be part of the team that takes them on.
What would you tell young women who are interested in working in engineering or the wastewater industry?
Engineering, especially in the water/wastewater industry, is no doubt a male-dominated field as far as the makeup of workforces. However, today we find more and more women engineers not only joining the profession but also taking on leadership roles. If you are interested in working in engineering, carefully consider the specific field of engineering that you are passionate about, consider how that field may affect your work-life balance in the long run, find a good mentor, and most importantly, find confidence in yourself!