Our Islands, Our Future

An environmental engineer is giving back by encouraging young girls to think about the possibilities in their future. Audrey Chihara, a 2004 Lahainaluna High School graduate, has been participating as a mentor in Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day since graduating with her own degree in environmental engineering. “I tell girls all the time I didn’t even know I could major in engineering,” Chihara said, following a visit by Kihei Charter School 7th- and 8th-graders at her firm, Brown and Caldwell in Wailuku. Chihara and her colleague, Irina Constantinescu, were amongst 24 engineers in Maui County who served as mentors and gave middle schoolers a peek into their careers.

“We showed them there are a lot of different areas in engineering that they could get into, if they’re interested,” Chihara said. After graduating from high school, Chihara said she was unsure about what she wanted to study until she enrolled in Maui Economic Development Board’s Women in Technology program. She landed an internship at Hawaiian Telcom and made a connection with Brown and Caldwell where she’s been employed for about five years now.

Chihara recommends that young people interested in the field of science, engineering and technology enroll in plenty of science and math courses in high school and college. “Even if they don’t end up with a career, it’s really going to help them down the road,” she said.

As a mother of a three-year-old, Chihara said her career “provides a pretty good work and life balance.” She said the average engineer gets paid between $50,000 and $60,000 at her first job. After fielding questions and chatting with the Kihei middle schoolers, Chihara said she was grateful for the opportunity. “I get really excited for them. You can just tell that the wheels are turning, the light bulbs are lighting up and they’re really thinking about it.”

Maui Economic Development Board coordinates Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, a nationally recognized event held annually during National Engineering Week. This year’s program drew nearly 50 middle school students in public and private schools on Maui and Lanai.