Orange County Government: Women in STEM
Carol Merkel discovered her love for engineering in college and has never looked back.
Growing up, Carol Merkel loved math and was exceptionally good at it, but she didn’t know where it could lead from a career standpoint. She assumed she would become an accountant, that is until some friends told her to consider engineering.
“I remember looking at the University of Florida course descriptions and saw all the engineering courses,” she recalled. “I liked the idea of environmental engineering, which included classes like water treatment, water resources, air pollution and radiation health.”
She went on to get her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Florida in 1978. Of course, back in those days, there were not a lot of women taking engineering classes, but that did not bother Merkel. “I didn’t think anything of it because I loved the classes and was passionate about what I was doing,” she said.
After graduating, Merkel worked at a private consulting firm that focused on land development, and it geared her towards stormwater management and permitting. She went back to the University of Florida and received her master’s degree in Engineering with a focus on Water Resources in 1984 and she received her Professional Engineering license in 1985.
“Hearing about the effects of development around Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades made me realize how important the relationship is between water resources and land development,” she said.
Today, Merkel is a Senior Engineer in Plan Review for Development Engineering at Orange County Public Works, where she reviews development plans, preliminary subdivision plans and construction plans to ensure they are up to code for development. Subdivisions, commercial projects, industrial projects and roadway projects – they all need to meet code requirements in order to be approved.
“Every day is different, and every construction plan is unique, which makes my job both fun and challenging,” she explained. “My main priority is ensuring Orange County residents are protected from flooding and that roadways, drainage structures and pedestrian walkways are maintained.”
When Merkel started her first job out of college, she felt a little out of place because she was young and female, and everyone else was older and male, but she got used to it quickly because she was confident in her abilities. Today, things have changed, as there are many more female managers and engineers employed at the County.
She is confident this trend will continue, and advises young people to find their passion and go for it. “Do what you love to do, and explore all the disciplines associated with engineering because there are so many opportunities out there today.”
Photo Caption: Carol Merkel pictured outside the Orange County Public Works building.