Robbie Isaac is pictured with her niece, Maggie Nichols, left, a freshman at NCSU in the College of Engineering, and her daughter, Marnie Howiler, a high school senior.

December 14, 2021

Haskell’s Robbie Isaac Inducted by NCSU Engineering Hall of Fame

The Charlotte-based mechanical engineer enjoys solving problems for clients and hopes her honor helps to inspire others to enter STEM-based careers.

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Robbie Isaac didn’t become a mechanical engineer to collect accolades or serve as a role model, but, as it turns out, she’s accomplishing both.

Isaac, a Senior Engineer in Mechanical Design with Haskell, recently was inducted by the North Carolina State University Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) Alumni Hall of Fame. The accomplishment itself was an honor, but the reaction that the news elicited might have been even more gratifying.

Upon learning of her mom’s induction, Isaac’s daughter, Marnie, immediately texted her friends, who began passing around the message, “Yeah! Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)!”

“I feel this is a win for women in engineering,” Isaac said. “It shows that we are capable and excellent in our job and that we’re respected. It was a lot of work and effort and learning. But if I can help other women — and also men — get interested in engineering, then it’s worth it.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love being an engineer.”

On its website, the NCSU MAE Department explains that it has more than 12,000 graduates but that only about 150 have been inducted by the Alumni Hall of Fame, which was established in 2012 “to inspire our current students and to celebrate the accomplishments of our extraordinary graduates who have used their education to excel in a profession, career or service.”

Isaac is a licensed professional engineer in North and South Carolina. She joined Haskell in June 2021 as a project engineer in Haskell’s Charlotte office, where she reports to Bryan Smith, Director of Engineering for Healthcare Design. In her role, she provides engineering and consulting services to industrial and healthcare clients, which she finds rewarding.

“I came from the gas-fired power plant design business,” Isaac explains, “but with demand for new power plants going down, I decided to move on. When the opportunity to work with Bryan Smith at Haskell came along, I couldn’t pass it up.”

Despite the differences between her former and current new markets, mechanical engineering principles remain the same, so even as she adapts, she is able to apply expertise to industrial plants and healthcare institutions.

“Different industries have different requirements, so it’s definitely a new challenge for me,” she said. “In healthcare, for example, I need to be aware of things like aesthetics, comfort and cleanliness – that’s not something I was concerned about in power plants. But I love seeing what problems our clients have and then discovering solutions for them.”

What was it that drew Isaac to engineering in the first place? She blames her twin sister, who went to North Carolina State University to be a veterinarian. “We did everything together, so I was going wherever she goes. Of course, I needed to find a career for myself. I knew that I really liked math and solving problems, so I decided to be an engineer. I signed up and here I am.”

A member of the NCSU Class of 1991, Isaac is now on the Mechanical and Aerospace Department’s Undergraduate Advisory Board. So, what would she say to high school students, especially girls, who are considering a career in engineering but may be put off by the industry’s persistent image that it’s mucky, manual and macho?

“We’re trying to change the perception that mechanical engineers have to get their hands dirty,” she said. “You can really do whatever you want in engineering. I started out in a coal-fired power plant, which I admit is a very dirty environment. But when I moved over to design work, I sat in an office every day, and made just occasional visits to the construction site.”

The fact that 87 percent of mechanical engineers are male, Isaac said, has not been a factor in her career. The secret to doing well in any job, she said, is to like it and to stick with it. In her opinion, the easiest way to succeed is to learn from everybody you work with and earn their respect.

“It was rare to come across guys who didn’t want to work with me or wouldn’t give me a shot because I’m a female. When I did, I realized they treated the guys crappy too,” Isaac admits. “Maybe I’ve had to work a little harder because I’m a woman, but I’ve been overwhelmed by the response of so many current and former male colleagues who reached out to me when I got this award. They were so pleased for me.”

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