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Leading by Example: Emily Scerbo, PE Shares the Importance of Being a Mentor in STEM Fields

By Regina Sibilia

To recognize the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we spoke with Project Manager Emily Scerbo, PE to discuss her successful career in engineering and the importance of building opportunities for women and girls in STEM fields.

Emily Scerbo, PE, is a leading stormwater expert in Massachusetts and a mentor to the next generation of STEM leaders. She is Tighe & Bond’s Senior Technical Specialist for municipal stormwater management. Her career as a water resources engineer has led her to participate in the New England Water Environment Association (NEWEA) Stormwater Committee and state-wide initiatives such as the Baystate Roads Creating a Revenue Stream for Stormwater Management seminar series. In addition, she has become a trusted advisor to many communities because of her passion for implementing creative solutions to water resources challenges through improved stormwater management.

“My focus is on water quality on a day-to-day basis. It’s looking at what’s happening once water runs off a land surface – like your yard or driveway – and then makes its way down the street into your nearby lakes, rivers, streams, and ocean. I’m asking what impact stormwater is having on those water resources and how to make improvements in the watershed,” she explained.

Emily’s career accolades are well known at Tighe & Bond, but she is just as known for her vibrant personality and dedication to aiding in the growth of younger staff members. She feels that becoming a mentor is a crucial part of her job as a project manager.

“As a woman in a predominantly male field, I’ve had exceptional men and women who were mentors and advocates for me that helped me along the way. It’s important to pay that forward, so I take any chance I have to reach down and pull some of these junior people up,” explained Emily.

To bring these values into practice, she is currently working with a group of assistant project managers and through her guidance, these young engineers are flourishing as managers and leaders themselves. “I teach them how to delegate because it’s a learned skill; it doesn’t come naturally to anyone. You need to practice, and I try to drive home the point that you’re working to establish relationships as a project manager, not simply hand out assignments. That’s the difference between becoming an average project manager and a great project manager.”

But even as her career continues to grow, she still turns to her own peers to keep learning and applying her STEM-related expertise in new ways. Executive Director of the Mass Rivers Alliance Julia Blatt invited Emily to join the group, where she eventually became Vice President of the Board of Directors.

“At first, I didn’t think I belonged on the Board of Directors, full of exceptionally smart and successful professionals. But Julia is one of those people that sees strengths in me that I don’t even see. She encouraged me to take on the role of Vice President of the Board, so this has been a wonderful opportunity for me to expand my professional network, push me out my comfort zone, and advocate for clean water in a different way than in my job.”

Emily is forging similar supportive relationships to help young girls in her own community. She is a softball coach, a softball and baseball league Board member in her town, and co-director of the North Central Mass Softball League. Through the comradery of team sports, she can instill in younger generations the strong leadership skills and teamwork needed to pursue their goals as adults. She also took time to chaperone her son’s 5th-grade week at Nature’s Classroom where she could help connect STEAM (science, technology, art, engineering, and mathematics) lessons to tangible examples for the students.

Emily knows all too well the power that a classroom can have on your life decisions; that’s where she found her passion for engineering. She discovered the Tufts University engineering program and knew instantly that’s where she was going to college. She connected so much with the program she applied early decision. Despite the urging of others to keep her options open, Emily knew that their program was right for her. She was drawn into the School of Engineering’s commitment to gender parity as well as the opportunity to play for the Tufts softball team.  Despite Emily’s small stature, she made the team and played second base all four years.  She attributes much of her team-building and leadership skills to her coach, teammates, and time on the field.

Her innate confidence and vibrancy have stayed with her as she’s now helping others reach their career goals in STEM.  “I’ve known who I am for a long time. I’ve always been self-assured and when there’s something that I want to do, I know I’m going to do it.  I have an attitude of ‘just try to tell me I can’t and watch what happens.’” Emily has learned that it’s best to temper her ambition with pauses for reflection and a healthy work-life balance.

“Our job is so fast-paced, I remind myself and my colleagues to pause and think about where we are going (as individuals and as the Stormwater Community of Practice at Tighe & Bond) and how we can foresee and overcome obstacles so we are where we want to be in 1 year, 5 years, or 10 years.”

That includes making time for family and rest and recharge. “People know that I work hard but I don’t hide the fact that sometimes I’m unavailable because of family time or because I’m sneaking in a workout. My family and my wellbeing have to be #1 so I can bring my best self to work every day.”