She’s an environmental engineer at CalPortland, the largest building materials company on the west coast of the United States, a driving force for diversity in the workplace and a diligent mentor, seeking to inspire and encourage young women to consider working the mining and construction industry – meet Desirea Haggard.
Between Rock And A Work Place
Desirea Haggard is an environmental engineer at CalPortland, a driving force for diversity in the workplace and a diligent mentor, seeking to inspire and encourage young women to consider working in the mining and construction industry.
A self-described science and math “nerd,” she is also a wife, mother, off-roader, volunteer, professional engineer, chair of CalCIMA Environmental & Natural Resources Committee and president of the California Chapter of Women in Mining.
Born in Fontana and raised in the Southern California high desert, Desirea loved science from an early age, excelled at math and enjoyed helping her cabinet maker father measure things. She started playing piano at age eight, did well in school and was active in the community, but had no particular career path in mind.
When a high school teacher suggested she take a look at engineering, it was a defining moment for Desirea.
An Interest In Chemistry Leads To Engineering Degree.
Following graduation (second in her class), she was offered a full ride scholarship to the University of California Irvine.
“I looked at all the majors and saw chemical engineering as an option – since I liked chemistry in high school – I checked that box,” Desirea remembers. “I guessed right.”
An interest in environmental engineering was triggered when, while at UC Irvine, Desirea worked with a professor conducting research to help identify the source of elevated bacteria levels at Huntington Beach. That professor helped connect her to a professor at the University of California Riverside where she went on to pursue her master’s degree in chemical/environmental engineering.
Lost A Bet, But Gained A Career.
It was a bet that opened the door to a job in the construction materials industry. When Todd Weiser, a good friend working in the industry told Desirea his company had an opening for a chemical engineer, suggesting she should consider applying, she thought he was kidding.
You don’t have jobs for chemical engineers, you’re just digging up rocks,” she responded. When Todd bet her the job did exist, she confidently took the challenge, declaring, “Show me the job description.”
Desirea lost her bet but gained a job as a quality control supervisor at TXI Riverside Cement Company. A year later, when a position opened up for an environmental engineer, she applied and was selected. She ended up working there for the next five years.
“It’s the best bet I ever lost,” Desirea declared.
Career and Family Close By.
In 2009, Desirea was hired at CalPortland as an environmental manager. Interestingly, when CalPortland purchased Riverside Cement in 2015, she ended up overseeing environmental compliance for the very plant into which she was first hired. Just last year, Desirea was promoted to senior environmental manager. In ten short years, she has advanced to a senior management position in an industry she didn’t even know existed when she graduated from college.
Desirea especially appreciates the supportive industry work environment where co-workers seem more like family.
And, in her case, they actually are family. Desirea’s father-in-law, Herb Haggard started as a welder and worked his way up, building skills and responsibility to a position as maintenance planner over the course of a thirty plus year career with Riverside Cement (now CalPortland).
“I enjoy the variety in my work as an environmental engineer, where every day is different, and there is always something new,” Desirea says. “I am in this industry for life.”
Her only regret is that she didn’t know about the jobs and career opportunities earlier, “because I just love it.”
Inspiring The Next Generation
She loves it so much that she is doing her part to help increase the awareness that was missing in her life, mentoring young women engineering students as interns in the company, making sure they know about the diversity of jobs and careers available. She is also active in outreach activities with Women in Mining (WIM) and Mojave Environmental Education Consortium (MEED).
“Organizations like WIM and MEED help raise awareness of the use of minerals in everyday life, provide scholarships and networking, giving members the opportunity to create connections in the industry,” she explains.
Desirea is working hard to help inspire and encourage the younger generation to consider mining and construction as a career.
Desirea feels that the misconception that mining is limited to just quarry work and heavy equipment when it actually offers a multitude of exciting career options and possibilities is part of the challenge in attracting young women. From engineers and geologists to welders and estimators to maintenance workers to marketing, sales, human resources, and more – the opportunities in mining and construction are endless.
She applauds the efforts of CalCIMA and others working to highlight the job and career opportunities and share the stories of women and others who are helping shape the future of the construction materials industry.
“As an industry, we have a long way to go to create a more inclusive workplace and to seek and support women leaders,”she says. “I enrolled in the CalCIMA Emerging Leaders Program in part because I want to be a part of that culture change and help lead the way to a more diverse and inclusive workforce.”