Rachel Philhower’s job is to help make sure oil, after it’s drilled, reaches its destination.
“Once [oil] leaves out of the wellhead — until it gets to where it is going — that’s the realm I live in,” she said.
The Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., native joined the engineering consulting firm PSI headquartered in downtown Colorado Springs as a chemical engineer about nine months ago.
“I work with multiple clients within the oil and gas industry and really whatever tasks they need, whether it’s documents, a few calculations, sizing different valves or whatever, that’s what I do,” Philhower said. “I also do a lot of hydraulic modeling.”
She has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Rutgers University, where she competed on the women’s rowing team.
Philhower had a hard time finding a job back home after graduating and decided “to just pack her bags” and move to Colorado Springs.
“I figured I might as well be somewhere I want to actually live,” she said. “I really love the mountains. That’s really what brought me out here.”
Philhower spoke with the Business Journal this week about why she became an engineer and what it’s like to work in an industry dominated by men.
Why pursue engineering?
Actually, I wanted to become a surgeon my whole life. My grandfather was a world-renowned surgeon, so I think he was pretty influential, but I wanted to be a heart surgeon since I was literally in kindergarten. I wanted to know what was inside the body and how everything works. There is a little bit of engineering there, but I didn’t realize that until I got to college. That’s when I learned how long medical school was and how long it would be before I would actually be a functioning surgeon. So I was like, ‘How can I translate what I am into and how I like the way things work together?’ I knew I wanted to have a good job and have the ability to start a good career when I got out of school and eventually go back for a master’s or doctorate if I decided to. That’s when I realized that engineering was the way to go.
How do you like it?
I just love that it makes you think about a million different things that so many people don’t even realize are happening. Everything is so interconnected in the world and learning that really grounds you. Once you can realize there is so much going on to make everything possible and function, it’s really amazing.
Is it a male-dominated industry?
Oh, yeah it is.
Does that affect your ability to perform your job?
Personally, I have always just kind of been one of those girls that hangs out around the guys. That’s just who I am. I played a lot of sports growing up and was always around guys. So I don’t find it as difficult as maybe some of my peers would who also are women. It’s not like it’s even close to even in the industry yet, but in the office here, I’ve never felt I was treated any different because I’m a woman. I don’t have to do anything different or I can’t do something because I’m not a man. I got out in the field too, which can be a little grungy.
What’s working in the field like?
I love it. I’ve only been a few times so far but I’ve been able to travel to New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah in my short time at PSI. It really connects you to everything you are doing at the office. … It makes it easier to connect the dots and get a real look at how the operators work and feel, because they are the ones who actually do it on a day-to-day basis and really know what’s going on with the systems. We are just chilling in the office and doing our calculations that feel good to us, so I feel like it mends that bridge and makes us do our job better. I really like doing stuff and not sitting at my desk. It can be difficult having a normal 9-to-5 job sometimes.
What’s a challenge engineers face?
Sometimes, I feel like there is a stigma with engineers that we know how to do this and that just because we’re engineers. But engineering is more of just a way of thinking. It also can be hard to realize when to ask questions and when to take a problem on by yourself and do the research and dig a little bit deeper. It’s a new industry for me so I’ve just been trying to feel everything out. But I’ve learned to go find the people who know a lot more than I do on certain things. I’ve learned to be more open to asking for help, I would say.
What do you do in your free time?
I love the outdoors; I love trees. I love my dog. I have a German Shepherd and her and I go hiking a lot. I am married to a Marine veteran. We are actually high school sweethearts. When we first moved out here, neither of us had jobs. We just decided it’s time to move. We can work at restaurants there too. We might as well look for jobs somewhere we want to be instead of our hometown. I come from the fine dining world. My parents had two fine dining restaurants when I was growing up. I was always in there working on the weekends through high school and went back there and worked during college breaks. I love the restaurant world a lot but I want to use my degree. Someday, I would love to do something like a brewery/viticulture kind of thing with my engineering experience and mix the two together somehow.
Are you involved with the community?
I want to get more into volunteering now that I am more situated with my job and know that I’m going to be here for a little while. I would love to work with animals somewhere — help save the fur babies. I recently did a women’s career day event with the Girl Scouts for young girls because I guess I had a lot of similar experiences in high school — where I had older women professionals talk about what they did and exposed me to the different options I had.
I don’t want kids [of my own], so if there is a way that I can give back, I want to do that. Plus, young girls need to know how cool it is to be an engineer and that they can do it — anyone can do it. People say they could never be a chemical engineer. Yes they can. You just have to put the time in. But, also there are not enough of us women out here working. We need more women because we think differently than men. Our mindsets are different. We have different natural priorities. We need a combination of both men and women in the workplace to really get stuff going.
Any advice for other young professionals?
I would say to just go after it. You can’t say no to anything. You have to really put yourself out there because that’s when you grow and learn more about yourself. There are a lot of tasks that I have that I know I don’t want to do, but I know if I do them it’s going to benefit me down the line. So just take stuff on instead of complaining about it. Work hard. Work ethic is so important. Everyone was like, ‘You can’t move out there without a job.’ And I was like, ‘Watch me, I will make it work.’ I don’t think I am doing that bad for myself.