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Meet Emerging Leader: Melody Gonzalez, a Surprise Nomination

The second I got nominated, I dreamt of receiving the award. Not because I thought the award was already mine or that I deserved it more than anyone else, but because I wanted to represent Latinas in a male dominated industry. I wanted people to see that a Hispanic woman engineer mattered to someone. And any hope I would have had disappeared when I checked the other women nominated in my category. All of them nominated were amazing. Each had a long legacy of hard work, accomplishments, and involvement in great causes. I took some time to read their stories, and each filled me with a sense of pride and humbleness. I couldn’t pick a single one to be more deserving of that award than the other. In my eyes they were more than winners. They were warriors making their way through adversity and thriving regardless of personal struggles. I couldn’t help but wonder, how did I end up in this group? Do I belong here? Do I even hold any chance of getting this award? No way! And so, I set this aside and forgot about it.

After a few days, I chose to share the news with a few people in my inner circle. All of them were so excited and each of them in separate conversations reaffirmed that I was as accomplished as any of the amazing women listed with me. This really made me reflect on how I was measuring my goals and my wins. Maybe I was being too harsh when it came to evaluating myself. Either way, I decided to make it public and be proud of my nomination. As I saw it, it was an honor to even be included. I have been working really hard lately (more like always). These last few years on my road to obtain my professional engineering (PE) license has been a fascinating trip.

As a project Engineer at Black & Veatch, I have worked on very interesting and complex projects and am learning how to be an efficient project manager, as well as interacting effectively with multiple subconsultants and contractors for some projects currently in construction. My projects have ranged from a small task on a Water Treatment Plant, to being the Lead Project Engineer in a Wastewater Treatment Plant. For the last couple of years, I have been the acting engineer manager for the construction of one of the largest reservoir projects of its kind in the United States. I am in charge of the Construction Documentation Process, meaning it is under my responsibility that every submittal and request for information (RFIs) gets reviewed and answered with our best technical understanding and in a timely matter. But this is just the work I get paid to do.

I still wear a few hats on a volunteer basis. I have been honoring my commitment to professional and community outreach by serving in multiple leadership positions with several professional organizations. I must admit that I absolutely LOVE doing outreach work and being able to reach students of all ages around the world. As a woman in STEM and a Latina in Engineering, I feel a lot of responsibility for being out there as an example for other girls. This work allows me to promote STEM careers and bring awareness about opportunities in engineering to minority groups. But without a doubt, my proudest contribution is being a board member in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Committee with the Water Environment Federation. I have held this position for the last two years, and I can see the improvement we have had as an organization, and how devoted all its members are. Professionals from diverse backgrounds coming together for a common goal to have their voices influence how our water sector makes progress on its DE&I journey.

As I embraced my nomination, multiple doors opened to make it possible for me to attend the Empowering Women Conference and their Awards Gala. I still had very little hope I would actually win, but I was determined to take advantage of the opportunity to meet so many incredible women and be able to learn from their experiences and borrow their tools to be as accomplished as they are.

The conference surpassed my expectations by a mile. Each speaker was more knowledgeable and inspirational that the next. Each lesson learned, each win over adversity, each story made me feel I was capable of anything; but more importantly, each of those women made me feel seen. Each of them made me feel that I was not alone and that I belong.

The time for the gala arrived, and I was in a great mood feeling empowered. No matter what happened, I was already a winner for everything I gained during the conference. Just being in that room and being nominated with so many remarkable women was beyond any of my wildest dreams a few years ago when I was struggling to manage being an engineering student while raising two children as a single mother. So, when I heard my name called as the winner for emerging leader of the year, my brain couldn’t process the news immediately. I was genuinely not expecting it. It took me a few seconds to record and understand what was happening. And as I walked to the stage, my heart was filled with gratitude for the recognition not to me personally, but for the work I was doing. I can barely recall the few minutes at the stage, it was like entering a tunnel when things happen really fast. I remembered thinking “oh shoot, I didn’t prepare a speech.” There were a few pictures and laughs of my improvised “thank you” remarks. And I think it finally hit me once I was back sitting at the table trying to get a picture of the award to send to my mom and my kids with a text saying, “I ACTUALLY WON.”

Ecstatic is an understatement. Being the recipient of this award is a great reassurance that I am doing something right. There are truly not enough words to show my gratitude for this recognition. I am not taking this as a reward for what I have done but as encouragement to keep working to become a better professional and a leader for the ones behind me.

So, after all of that, could I be surprised again when I got the email notifying me that I have won the Industry Person of the Year Award? You bet I was. This has been in all honesty a marvelous year in almost every sense. At the beginning of the year, I was the recipient of an ASPIRE Award at my Company, Black & Veatch; at WEF, I was appointed for a special advisory committee for WEFTEC; I got the Emerging Leader of the Year and the Industry Person of the Year award; and I got a promotion at my job.

I can only say in closing that my commitment to keep working to promote the sector and to support diversity, equity and inclusion is stronger than ever. I need to thank everyone that has supported my journey and hope that you all stick around for the many adventures to come.

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