From her UNL days as a fatigue-wearing engineering student to later Saturday mornings when she'd work with contractors while toting her son in a baby backpack, Dingman always has channeled her own course. She earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1991 and, 15 years later, surfacing at the top of the male-dominated industry. Today she is majority owner and CEO of Lincoln's Engineering Design Consultants (EDC).
Pam Dingman Going with the Flow
For someone so intent on getting water to go where she wants it, you'd think Pam Dingman would be the sort of person who goes with the flow.
But from her UNL days as a fatigue-wearing engineering student to later Saturday mornings when she'd work with contractors while toting her son in a baby backpack, Dingman always has channeled her own course.
"I was always interested in storms and rainwater flows," the Ralston native says. "I lived at the bottom of the hill and we always watched the storms to see how high the water got. It was always intriguing. Not until later did I realize that somebody sized the pipe so that the street wouldn't flood."
That somebody almost always was a man. Dingman went against the current, though, earning a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1991 and, 15 years later, surfacing at the top of the male-dominated industry. Today she is majority owner and CEO of Lincoln's Engineering Design Consultants (EDC). She is believed to be one of only three women in the country who manages and is majority owner of a civil engineering firm.
That’s one reason, no doubt, why the American Business Women's Association named Dingman to its "2006 Top Ten Business Women" list. She was also once named to the Lincoln Business Journal's "40 Under 40" list honoring successful men and women younger than 40. Other awards have come from the Society of Women Engineers (2002 National Distinguished New Engineer), the Nebraska Society of Professional Engineers (2000 Young Engineer) and elsewhere.
Not too shabby for someone who once struggled to make the grade. "I was not a natural," Dingman says. "I really had to work hard."
Dingman first attended Wayne State College, where she was a music major, playing the violin and viola. The confines of that discipline, though, were stifling the big-picture engineer inside her. "Midway through that first semester as a music major I decided I didn't really have the ability to sit in a 6-by-6 music room and practice all day long," she says. "The thought of . . . just playing bar after bar of music hour after hour for the rest of your life was awfully daunting."
So she transferred to Nebraska, switched to engineering, and joined the ROTC. "I wasn't your average college student, especially with the ROTC requirements," she says. "I was in fatigues at least two days a week."
Dingman remembers the solid teaching she received in classes such as hydrology and open channel flow. "In private development, everything is about the drainage," she says. "These classes gave me the base knowledge, which I have built upon over the years." She also fondly recalls Professor Mohamed Dahab, "an extremely good professor" who "always gave positive support and encouragement to the students."
But Dingman also remembers something lacking – female engineering students. "There weren't a lot of women at UNL in the late '80s," she says. "There were no mentors or female professors in civil engineering."
It's a problem that persists today. Dahab calls it, "one of my biggest challenges."
"Not just women, but other minorities," says Dahab, chair of UNL's environmental engineering department. "I think it transcends engineering. It's really a societal issue. Our propensity as a society is to drive women away from math and science into the social sciences and so forth. Women tend to gravitate, at least in my observation, toward the biological sciences, the life sciences. Consequently, in our environmental engineering program we see more women than we see in the rest of engineering. I wish it was different. I really do."
Yet progress has been made. Dingman graduated in 1991 as the only woman in her engineering class. Dahab says that today women account for 15 to 20 percent of engineering students. And of UNL's 27 engineering faculty, three are women. "I think the department has come a long way in diversifying over the past few years," says Dingman, who since graduating has spoken several times with UNL student engineering organizations.
But more could be done, she adds. "I personally feel that the program would benefit from having a Women in Engineering Program that concentrated on retaining and recruiting women students. This has been very successful at other universities."
Dingman has tried to do her part. She speaks about five times a year to young women and minorities about the importance of math and science and about available engineering careers. She speaks at schools and through programs such as Girls Inc. She also has been a volunteer math tutor at Girls and Boys Town.
Her theme, she says, is that engineering remains one of the last "unconcerned frontiers" for women. Of Nebraska's more than 11,000 registered engineers, Dingman notes, fewer than 200 are women.
Dingman broke into the field shortly after graduation with Denver-based Schloss Engineered Equipment, then with Nolte & Associates. She moved back to Nebraska in 1996 as a project engineer for Omaha's Schemmer Associates. One year later she joined Lamp Rynearson & Associates, eventually becoming senior project manager and one of the first two women stockholders in company history.
A single mother of two boys, Dingman joined EDC in 2003 as project manager, soon thereafter began buying stock, and on Jan. 1 this year became majority owner. Today she runs the 18-employee firm spread between offices in Lincoln and Omaha. Projects range from the Vintage Heights residential development in Lincoln to Value Place, a commercial project in Omaha's I-80 Business Park.
"There is nothing more awesome than driving up to a finished construction site and knowing that you were responsible for what is there," Dingman says. "How many people in life have the opportunity to do things that will last hundreds of years?"
Dingman might not always go with the flow, but things certainly seem to be going her way.
Courtesy: Nebraska Alumni Association