Cheryl Moon-Sirianni: Champion for women in civil engineering
Cheryl Moon-Sirianni (’87 C E) always had her sights set on attending Penn State. After graduating from Freeport Area High School in 1983, she went off to University Park to major in petroleum engineering.
Everything changed for Cheryl after her first year. That summer, she had an internship with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), where she worked on a bridge project in Kittanning, Pennsylvania. “I was bitten by the civil engineering bug,” she says. “I was so intrigued by how the bridge design worked, and knew that civil engineering fitted me better than petroleum engineering.”
Cheryl was not only bitten by the civil engineering bug; she was bitten by the PennDOT bug. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1987, Cheryl began her career with PennDOT — and has been there for 31 years. In November 2017, she was appointed district executive for District 11, which covers a three-county Pittsburgh region.
“The people I work with are by far the best folks that anyone can hope to work with,” Cheryl says. “We all work so well as a team, working toward a common goal to get a good project out for the public. To be selected to continue working with them in this position is extremely flattering.”
As the first woman to lead District 11, Cheryl is responsible for 800 men and women who work in the district, and oversees more than $370 million in construction projects, 2,569 miles of roadway, 1,796 bridges, and four tunnels in Allegheny, Beaver, and Lawrence counties.
“Every day is different,” she explains. “One day we could have a landslide that we’re struggling to fix, another day we could have a major snowstorm and a flooding incident, and other days we’re working hard to get design projects out and trying to figure out where funding goes. You’re always challenged every single day.”
Cheryl is a strong advocate for women, especially for women entering the field of civil engineering.
“What I see with a lot of young women is they don’t have the confidence — they don’t feel they can do everything a counterpart can do,” she says. “Never sell yourself short. You are just as capable, if not more capable, than the other folks sitting around you.”
Cheryl has facilitated all four of the Women’s Forums for Architecture, Engineering and Construction professionals, held twice a year in the Pittsburgh area, where women discuss topics such as childcare and the stresses of balancing life and family. “Anything I can do to make other folks’ jobs easier and help them navigate through life’s difficult situations makes me feel better,” she says.
In addition, Cheryl is a member of the Penn State Beaver Advisory Board, where she chairs the Recruitment and Retention Committee. A big focus of the committee is to try to attract students from underrepresented communities to engineering, who might think engineering is not an option for them.
“Civil engineering is a great career choice. There are so many opportunities in civil engineering — you can choose to be a public servant, a hydraulic engineer, a bridge designer, a roadway designer, build skyscrapers, you can choose to work in the office, out of the office — there’s a lot of flexibility,” she explains.
Cheryl has had many professional achievements throughout her career with PennDOT. She received the Secretary’s Award for Excellence in 1996; the American Society of Civil Engineers Service to the People Award in 2006; she was a National Award Nominee for the White House Champions of Change, Connecting Transportation and Ladders of Opportunity in 2014; and received the Engineer of the Year Award from the Engineers Society of Western Pennsylvania in 2015.
“I love my job — I’ve loved my job my whole career,” she says. “You should never be in a job where you’re not having fun. That’s not saying every day is parties and streamers, but you should be walking in the door every morning with a smile on your face and ready to tackle the day. And if you’re walking in with your head down and depressed every day, maybe you’re not in the right place. Just have fun and enjoy the opportunities you have — life is short so you should live every single day to the fullest.”
Cheryl lives in Economy, Pennsylvania, where she enjoys golfing and spending time with friends and family. Her daughter, Gina, is currently a junior at Penn State majoring in industrial engineering.