Jennifer Keith has more than 19 years of experience in electrical engineering design with extensive experience in new construction, renovations and additions. She is particularly focused on providing clients with an excellent lighting and lighting control design as part of an integrated building electrical distribution system. Her projects have ranged from repeat site adapt retail and restaurant work to more complex multi-disciplinary collaborative designs. Keith has developed a strong interest in development and planning, particularly regarding adaptive reuse and downtown redevelopment. Effective lighting is key in enhancing efforts to improve walkability, which is crucial in improving the communities in which we live.
1. With women making up only an estimated 14 percent of all engineers, what attracted you to your field?
My mom was an artist and my dad is a retired professor of Biomedical Engineering. So, I had a good chance of going either direction and started along both paths. After changing my major a few times, I decided I wanted to become an engineer to help support my art career. I’m still working on that art career.
2. What are some of the hurdles and solutions to positively changing positively changing that percentage?
It’s getting better, but changing the perception of engineers for girls and young women helps. Educating the educators as it were. I actually had a teacher in middle school comment to my parents on my high math scores on the standardized tests that the scores were “pretty good, for a girl and all.” Things have really come along from there, but I do think there are some inherent assumptions that “boys are better at math.” Finding ways to make engineering “cool” for all kids would help, in addition to HOW we teach the kids. Schools such as the Springdale Don Tyson School of Innovation are a great step in that direction. Not only does it provide a different model for learning for the kids, the school provides a lot of resources and opportunities for those kids. Primary public charters such as Ozark Montessori Academy and Arkansas Arts Academy also provide alternative learning environments for kids who struggle in traditional learning environments. So often, kids are “lost” at a young age. Finding ways to continue to stoke the fire of love of learning that the youngest kids have is our best bet long-term. Ideally, it would be great to see some of the great concepts that work at alternative schools integrated into the traditional schools.
3. From an engineering perspective, what are the top priorities to be considered a new urbanist community?
Sustainability is a big part of new urbanism. The idea of creating walkable and accessible spaces and the repurposing of existing spaces is inherently sustainable in many ways. But we need to be taking that a step further and ensuring that we build out those spaces in a sustainable way. LEDs have taken the lighting world by storm, but there are still concerns. Where they save energy, we also need to ensure the spaces we light are done in a thoughtful way to keep them functional and welcoming. Specifying high-efficiency Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) equipment will help with keeping the operating costs down.
4. What are the benefits of investing in those top priorities and why aren’t they done more often?
The greatest benefit of investing in more sustainable construction options is long-term maintenance and well-being for the building occupant. The goal of small developers, as I have come to understand is that we are investing in the community where we live and work. It is in our best interest to include features that will save energy and keep down the long-term costs. The downside of course is that typically these are the higher first-cost options. They are often "value-engineered" because of limited investment capital. But, as these items become more mainstream, for example LED lighting, the costs become more affordable.
5. What private development projects or municipalities are getting it right when it comes to investment in their urban infrastructure?
Living and working in Northwest Arkansas gives me the most visibility to what is happening in the communities in that area. As most are aware, the catalyst of creating and implementing the Razorback Greenway has been an incredible start. I see most of the municipalities now working toward connecting the rest of their communities with that resource. So, in that regard, I would say most communities around here are making an effort to contribute. As for private investment, there are so many great resources, including the Walton Family Foundation, Tyson, and many others. As a resident and entrepreneur living in Springdale, I am really excited to see all the good stuff that is coming out of the Jones Center and the Jones Trust organizations. They are regularly hosting low- or no-cost community-building events that benefit all of us. They have created a model to help so many other nonprofits in the area. The extended reach of that work has influenced so many lives in our area.