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Born in a small town in Alabama, Carol Johnson says she cherishes her roots. “I was raised in the country. Grew up playing in the woods.”
Johnson has since grown from that little girl who played in the woods to a woman who is a senior project manager at Edmonds Engineering (EEI), a full service commercial and industrial engineering consulting design firm. Johnson holds a Certified Plumbing Designer (CPD) designation from ASPE, a LEED Accredited Professional (AP) designation from Green Business Certification Inc., as well as a Certified Fire Inspector (CFI) designation.
Even when just a little girl playing in the woods, Johnson knew she just loved how things worked. She recalls being able to fix most any lawnmower or radio at a very early age. “It went uphill, or downhill from there,” she says. “I did my first real plumbing job under my grandmother’s house when I was eight-years-old. The yellow lab ate pipes.”
She never outgrew that passion for learning about how things work. She attended Walker College in Jasper, Alabama, and then the University of Alabama Birmingham, where she studied mathematics and engineering.
Her first real job out of college was a sawmill, which she says was a great learning experience. “I started in purchasing and worked my way up to project manager. The hands-on understanding of all these commercial systems and how construction works from the ground up was instrumental in shaping my path into plumbing/fire protection engineering.”
When the mill was purchased, she was offered a relocation position. But her family was dependent on care at the time, so she chose to stay in the area. “I took a position in a consulting firm and learned and filled the role as its fire protection and plumbing engineer. Twenty years later, I am still fascinated by how things work.”
Today, as a senior project manager, Johnson is responsible for producing initial design layouts for space and other design team coordination. Her everyday involves scheduling, detailing, communicating, preparing, producing and reviewing.
Her knowledge of design with an understanding of building construction and codes provides clients she works with a comprehensive detail-oriented design. Her experience stretches from health care, commercial, military, industrial, mixed-use facilities, to educational and religious projects.
She has worked on more that 2,000 projects that encompass all levels of schematic, budgeting, field evaluation, design, quality control and construction administration. For a woman who loves to learn how things work, she has certainly adopted an attitude and work ethic that makes the layperson wonder how she’s able to make it all work, especially in a male-dominated industry.
“I worked hard, learned my craft and respected those around me,” Johnson says.
She adds, “I am a daughter of a strong, single mom. I was raised to believe that I am a strong person, I should work hard, and I should stand for what is right. Standing for what is right meant following your heart and standing up for those who needed you. So, to this day, I live following my heart.”
Even with working hard and following her heart, Johnson has encountered challenges. But she talks about them as learning experiences and opportunities for growth.
“In my first job, I was the only woman among 117 men in an industrial facility. Ironically, they built me a bathroom. The benefit was, I could have been just about everyone’s daughter. I thrived to learn everything, and I was given that opportunity most likely because I was young enough to be their daughter,” she recalls.
“In my role as a consulting engineer, I learned my craft through osmosis in the industry, code review and with sound logic and engineering principles from education,” Johnson continues. “The Gentlemen of the American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE) were absolutely some of the best mentors, and to this day many are my friends. I could never say thank you enough to that group for helping me have the tools to do my job today.”
Though Johnson credits the mentorship of others for her success today, it is in part her dedication to want to learn that keeps her successful.
“People are products of their environments and experiences,” Johnson says. “Will I have the same opportunities as men in this industry? I would not venture to answer. I have always approached the gender difference as if there is no gender difference because we are people doing a job, making a living, and making a difference in the world. If that is not the case, then I have been entering the room still the same with the belief I am a product of a strong lady that allowed me to feel I could be anything I wanted to be. Thus far she has not been wrong.”
In addition to her role as a senior project manager at EEI, Johnson serves as the Board Liaison to the Women of ASPE (WOA) group, as well as the ASPE VP Legislative.
In her role as the ASPE VP Legislative, she has answered thousands of emails relating to codes for plumbing and fire protection in almost every state. “I would like to continue my dedication to the codes,” Johnson says.
In regard to WOA, she says, “My original role with WOA was to work with Sarah Balz and the ladies of the committee to organize and develop the special interest group within ASPE.”
The core mission of WOA is to engage, retain and advance women in the plumbing industry, through education, leadership development and networking opportunities. I first met Johnson at the inaugural WOA event at the 2016 ASPE Convention & Expo. We sat at the same table, and she immediately welcomed me and made conversation. Johnson was eager to tell me about WOA and all the group hoped to accomplish.
Today, not much has changed in her passion about WOA. “This group is amazing. We have created a positive organization that is fostering relationships with all members of ASPE. It has provided many members a communication path to improve each other’s careers and knowledge base of learning. Often in the plumbing industry, your professional organization is a means of gathering good design principles and engineering understanding. When the path to that knowledge is wide, it can only be good for career development. And in the plumbing industry, what is good design is also good for our environment and the safety of people.”
As Johnson has come into her own, she’s taken that yearning to learn and applied it to teaching.
“To all the young girls out there, follow your heart,” she says. “If you love math, science and engineering, or if you love to fix things or how things work, go into this world and become the engineer, the mathematician, or the anything you want to be. You are who makes those choices. Work hard, learn from everything, and you will succeed.”
Johnson also has advice for women who are already in the industry. “Work hard, learn all that you can, build relationships and network, trust and value who you are and what you contribute. If you are driven to build a plane, or a plumbing system, or purify every drop of water on this planet, then do it.”
Usually, when you ask someone to talk about their most successful moments, they tend to share details of great projects, or awards they’ve received. Johnson says that in her current role, she designs, manages projects and trains others.
“Every once in a while, as I am helping someone, or I hear them repeat something I’ve shared to another person … and I feel like I have helped them learn and understand, and that in turn helps them do their job better and gives them a stable life for them and their family, I have a moment. That’s a success. When I feel like I have made a difference in someone’s life — those are the greatest moments. I also of course, feel successful when I walk through a new hospital, cancer center, or school that I’ve helped to design.”
Johnson recognizes that there is an energy out there ready to be harnessed. “As an industry, we have to promote within and provide exposure to those who have succeeded,” she says. “There are women in this industry. We are tooled for this industry. Most of us are natural perseveres. Most of us have strong will and good skills at communication and learning. As an industry, we need to tap into that. We need to keep reaching out and informing people, training people and promoting people.”
Johnson will continue to press for progress and hopes to continue to serve in any capacity she can that will allow her to make a difference.
“In life, I feel we are stewards of our past. A past we should honor with the future. We have the future to either learn from our past or honor our past. I highly recommend both. If not INCLUSIVE now for all people, then when? We are humanity after all,” Johnson explains. “Do you want someone to tell your daughter or son she or he CAN’T? Life gets pretty simple at some point. The differences you make in this world, you do not get to take with you. It is what you leave behind. I am going to be the strong lady that I was raised to be. I love to make the world a better place by building structures that people work in, hospitals to get well in, research labs that develop drugs or processes that heal people, schools to get an education, etc. It is one of the cogs in my life. Hopefully I will be leaving behind great work in the codes, a stronger ASPE and family/humanity that is proud of me.”
Carol Johnson has taken on a new role in her journey of ‘doing what’s right.’ Starting last month, she is a regular contributing columnist to Plumbing Engineer. We could not be more honored to have her be part of the team and look forward to her knowledge sharing!