Taking the Road Less Traveled
A Journey Across Miles and Barriers to Become a Structural Engineer

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Throughout her upbringing in India and Nigeria, Jyothsana Chandramohan had an immense curiosity about the mechanics of things. When she was 10 years old, she took apart her father’s solar calculator to see how it captured sunlight to function. She dismantled a telephone junction box to better understand how voices were transmitted through cables. Her inquisitive nature and the encouragement of others would lay a road map for Chandramohan to spread her wings and pursue a career as a structural engineer thousands of miles from home. Today she’s following and achieving her professional dreams to shape the future of the structural landscape for generations to come.

Finding her way
In India, Chandramohan studied for her undergraduate degree in civil engineering. “I enjoyed the complex analytical process that went into designing buildings,” she explains. “I had an incredible mechanics professor, who encouraged me to pursue my master’s degree and recommended structural engineering as a great career for me. I wanted to leave an impact on the built environment long after I am gone.” Her parents supported her courageous decision to travel to the United States for her graduate degree. “I was the first woman in our family to fly alone and so far away for an education,” she says. “I chose to go to Texas A&M University because it was ranked in the top 10 nationally for graduate civil engineering.”

Driven to make an impact
As a new college graduate, Chandramohan was eager to start the career of her dreams. “I designed structures such as petrochemical buildings, office buildings, low-rise apartments, jails, parking garages and residential remodels,” she says. “I also did foundation inspections for houses in Texas.” Specific examples of early projects include serving as the lead precast engineer for the event center and stadium in Cedar Park, Texas, and designing an addition to the Brazos County Jail in Texas; a walkway and crane supports for the Toyota plant in San Antonio; and apartments in Chicago.

“It’s important to prove myself so people know what I can do and how well and efficiently I can do it”

In 2013, she and her husband, Kalyan, relocated to Rochester, where he began employment at Mayo Clinic. Their family has since grown to include two children—they now have a 4-year-old son and a 6-month-old daughter, who was born during the pandemic. In the year following their move, Chandramohan accepted a position with the city of Rochester, where she worked for seven years as a structural plans examiner in Community Development.

“I was the first female and woman of color working as a plans examiner structural engineer for the city. In this role, I reviewed structural drawings of commercial buildings, did member and connection designs and reviewed and verified construction drawings,” she says. “I completed structural reviews of most of the commercial buildings in Rochester.” Just recently she accepted an offer to work as a structural engineer at MBJ (Meyer | Borgman | Johnson), a structural engineering firm in Rochester committed to providing the highest level of services. Through her work with different employers and collaboration with other engineers, architects, contractors and owners, Chandramohan continues to gain valuable experiences and new approaches to problem solving. Chandromohan has navigated the male-dominated field of her career with grit and grace.

“Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.” – Dr. Mae Jemison, first African American female astronaut”

Finding her way
In India, Chandramohan studied for her undergraduate degree in civil engineering. “I enjoyed the complex analytical process that went into designing buildings,” she explains. “I had an incredible mechanics professor, who encouraged me to pursue my master’s degree and recommended structural engineering as a great career for me. I wanted to leave an impact on the built environment long after I am gone.”
Her parents supported her courageous decision to travel to the United States for her graduate degree. “I was the first woman in our family to fly alone and so far away for an education,” she says. “I chose to go to Texas A&M University because it was ranked in the top 10 nationally for graduate civil engineering.”

Driven to make an impact
As a new college graduate, Chandramohan was eager to start the career of her dreams. “I designed structures such as petrochemical buildings, office buildings, low-rise apartments, jails, parking garages and residential remodels,” she says. “I also did foundation inspections for houses in Texas.” Specific examples of early projects include serving as the lead precast engineer for the event center and stadium in Cedar Park, Texas, and designing an addition to the Brazos County Jail in Texas; a walkway and crane supports for the Toyota plant in San Antonio; and apartments in Chicago.”

In 2013, she and her husband, Kalyan, relocated to Rochester, where he began employment at Mayo Clinic. Their family has since grown to include two children—they now have a 4-year-old son and a 6-month-old daughter, who was born during the pandemic. In the year following their move, Chandramohan accepted a position with the city of Rochester, where she worked for seven years as a structural plans examiner in Community Development. “I was the first female and woman of color working as a plans examiner structural engineer for the city. In this role, I reviewed structural drawings of commercial buildings, did member and connection designs and reviewed and verified construction drawings,” she says. “I completed structural reviews of most of the commercial buildings in Rochester.” Just recently she accepted an offer to work as a structural engineer at MBJ (Meyer | Borgman | Johnson), a structural engineering firm in Rochester committed to providing the highest level of services. Through her work with different employers and collaboration with other engineers, architects, contractors and owners, Chandramohan continues to gain valuable experiences and new approaches to problem solving.

Chandromohan has navigated the male-dominated field of her career with grit and grace. To read more about her experience and her advice for women who want to pursue careers in engineering, visit rwmagazine.com.

Proving herself
Chandramohan is not oblivious to the challenges of working in a male dominated industry, yet her desire to work as a structural engineer is stronger than ever. Her confidence has grown significantly since her internship at a firm that designed nuclear power plants in Chennai, India, when she was one of only two women on an entire floor of 50 to 60 male engineers in the workplace. “I remember being overwhelmed during my first week and coming home that night and feeling I could never be a structural engineer,” she says. “There will always be people who doubt you along the way no matter where you go, but my passion for building design has helped me wither my own self-doubt.”

Chandramohan was once mistaken as an assistant for a male counterpart, and she also experienced a customer wanting to speak to “another” (male) engineer. When she was the lead structural engineer for a car dealership project in Chicago and needed to get the measurements of rooftop units and their supports after a significant snowstorm, the contractor thought she should stay indoors and take notes, which she chose not to do. She copes with gender stereotypes by proving herself and being patient.

“I strive very hard to dispel expectations and refuse to let stereotypes affect the type or quality of work I perform,” says Chandramohan. “It’s important to prove myself so people know what I can do and how well and efficiently I can do it. I like to take on challenging and complex projects, because that’s a good way to prove my ability.”

Destination success
Chandramohan shares guiding principles that she lives by as a successful structural engineer—both as a woman and a woman of color:

  • Put in the extra work and get your hands dirty to understand the little nuances of construction, which will help you become a better engineer.
  • Be open to learning from everyone, whether the director of the firm, a carpenter or an office assistant—each brings a different perspective and approach to problem-solving.
  • Share knowledge and encourage others to achieve their goals.
  • Don’t be overwhelmed by what seems to be a complicated engineering problem.
  • Don’t let others’ opinions persuade you to leave the industry—always persevere and never give up Supportive groups, such as the Society of Women Engineers, provide a safe space for developing self-confidence and leadership opportunities.

More than job satisfaction
Chandramohan credits her husband for being her “rock” over the years. “There were times when I was exhausted, and he kept pushing me to not give up on my dreams or my career,” she says. “I also am fortunate to have professional mentors whom I can call on to brainstorm, discuss technical ideas or troubleshoot construction issues that come up in the field. It’s nice to get their technical expertise to make sure I am staying on track.”

Certainly, Jyothsana Chandramohan’s career journey is on the right path. With analytical curiosity and skills, quality education and strong perseverance, she has what it takes to succeed in a non traditional role as a structural engineer— and as a woman of color. But the road to her success doesn’t end there: “Someday I would like to work with technology and design structures in less-developed countries to prevent adverse events, such as loads caused by earthquakes and hurricanes,” she concludes. “The sense of satisfaction that comes from designing structures for catastrophic loads, thereby saving lives, is amazing.”

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