A Path Breaking Engineer: Meet Haila Hudson

A Pioneer in Her Field, NCE Graduate Haila Hudson

Haila Hudson (1988) is a pioneer in the fields of construction and professional engineering. She was one of the first women in New Jersey to become a licensed electrician, and one of the first women in state to become a licensed electrical contractor.  She is also a licensed professional engineer in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

In 1998, she founded Milestones Engineering, PC, a small, certified women-and-minority owned business that specializes in electrical consulting.

Hudson has two degrees from NJIT: a bachelor’s in electrical engineering technology (1988) and a master’s in business management (2000). She earned her bachelor’s degree by taking night classes while also working full time as an electrician. And later, she earned her master’s in management while running her own business. She thought that having a management degree would help her become a better manager.  Haila is also a member of the Murray Center for Women in Technology Advisory Board.

In honor of her achievements, the Newark College of Engineering (NCE) recently gave Hudson an Outstanding Alumna Award.  In this interview, Hudson discusses her degrees, her business and her path breaking career.

How did you first take an interest in electricity?
In 1980, I incorrectly wired a table lamp for a friend’s mother.  A colorful arc flashed out of the receptacle immediately after I inserted the cord into the wall receptacle. After I got over my embarrassment and cleaned the flash mark off the wall, I decided to understand what went wrong. I hadn’t intended to make electrical engineering my career, but the event literally sparked my curiosity.

How did you become an electrician?

During the Carter Administration, unions were encouraged to open their doors to women and minorities. I was accepted into the apprenticeship program of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Union in 1980. It was a structured work study program. I had the opportunity to work on many types of construction projects during the day and to attend apprenticeship classes at night. The curriculum included basic economics, electrical theory, application of the National Electric Code and appropriate methods and materials for electrical installations. The union members were supportive during my apprenticeship as well as while I was earning my undergraduate degree.

How long did it take you to get your bachelor’s degree?

It took four years after I completed the apprenticeship program to complete my undergraduate coursework -- from 1984 to 1988. Balancing a day job as an electrician and evening classes was a challenge, but with the financial support of my union job and encouragement from my family and coworkers, it finally happened.  I’m not sure I would have maintained my courage and completed the program without that support. But with their support behind me, I felt compelled to continue and create something as a tribute to all those who had helped make it happen.

Did you start your business right after NJIT?

No, to build an engineering firm, one has to become a licensed engineer first. I started that journey as an engineering intern at an electrical contracting firm, Nordling Dean Electric, where I worked my last two years as an apprentice. While working on a wastewater project in Madison, N.J., I was recruited to Killam Associates, which is now Hatch Mott McDonald, a consulting engineering firm located in Milburn.  After a few years with Hatch, I joined Mike Currie, the principal of Almec Engineering, an NCE graduate and a previous employee at Killam. Working with Mike gave me insight to enter both the engineering and business worlds. We are good friends and professional colleagues today. Thanks to three companies that I worked for,  I was inspired to start Milestones Engineering.

What does your business do?

From the years in the construction industry, I had contacts in the architectural, engineering and contracting fields. We provide electrical design and consulting engineering services for the private and public sectors in the manufacturing, pharmaceutical and waste water industries. Our design drawings are used for competitive bidding and eventually for construction. The drawings are reviewed and approved by the state, local cities or municipalities.

After the approval, an electrical contractor is able to obtain a construction permit to install the system. We collaborate with architects, mechanical engineers, civil engineers, lighting designers and other specialty consultants to determine how the electrical power is installed and managed for safe operation. As part of the design, we have to perform the calculations, research applicable building codes, write specifications and prepare computerized drawings to illustrate how the electricity is to be distributed and controlled to protect equipment, lives and property.  We also provide expert witness testimony to legal firms and technical support to insurance companies on code and construction related matters to help settle legal disputes. I also obtained a High-rise-Hazardous Specialist (HHS) license, which authorizes me to review building plans and conduct field inspection activities for Classes I, II and III structures.

Does your engineering degree help you run your business?
With very few exceptions, an engineering degree from an accredited institution such as NJIT is required to obtain an engineering license, and the license is required to operate a professional corporation that sells engineering services in N.J. Without the degree, I would not be able to offer engineering services.  

What about your master’s in management. Does that help you?

The Executive Management program helped me to understand and apply business elements such as teamwork, communication skills, marketing techniques and corporate finance methods. The fast pace of the program got me into shape to endure business life. And the tools of the program created the building blocks to help us  meet our goals.

Does your management skill mix with your engineering knowledge?
Both degrees have helped because I address either engineering or management issues everyday. Management theory, business trends, technology and building codes change periodically. But thankfully our work is based on Ohm’s law, and that has not been repealed yet.

What do you like best about the business?

We must stay flexible and adapt to the changing trends and the seemingly never ending changes in our technology tools but that’s what I enjoy about being in business. I appreciate the challenges that constant change brings. There is no time for boredom and no room for mediocrity. Innovative thinking, which NJIT cultivates, has broadened our experiences and keeps our company successful. 

You worked on two NJIT buildings: Campbell Hall and Colton Hall.

The renovation of Campbell and Colton Halls was my first job as a professional engineer while working for Nordling Dean Electric. This was before I entered the graduate program. At that time, the buildings had individual electric services. Our job was to create the design to remove the utility connections, upgrade the electrical panels and supply power from the (then) new architecture building. This electrical upgrade was required to accommodate new classrooms and research laboratories. It was especially gratifying to sign and apply my engineer’s seal to the drawing for the upgrades to the buildings that were had been an integral part of my undergraduate career. Facilitating change with creative innovation: that’s what this engineering business is all about for me.

How did you feel when NCE gave you its Outstanding Alumna Award?

Who would ever believe it?

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)