Cascade Business News article written by Noah Nelson (September 1, 2022)
Laura Breit is originally from California, where she was raised in a small, rural town that was built around farming. Engineering has always been an interest to her since her father was a successful engineer, himself. This inspiration early in life led Breit to pursue engineering as a potential career, and after getting her undergraduate degree from UC Santa Barbara followed by a Masters in Engineering from Georgia Tech, she has never looked back.
After college, Breit moved back to California to work at her father’s engineering firm, up until her husband was offered a job opportunity in scenic Bend. In 2007, the duo made the move and have lived here ever since. “I always say, we moved here for his career, but we stayed for mine,” Breit said.
Breit spent around six years in Bend working at another engineering firm, but things changed in 2013. “I had just had my second child, and I was looking for a change of pace,” Breit said. “I felt like I needed to branch out.”
Her maternity leave was, “let’s just say, very short,” and Breit found herself looking for professional opportunities that aligned with her life, both as a mother and a successful engineer.
ColeBreit Engineering was born just after her second child, and with the help of Raymond Cole, former CEO of Axiom Engineers, ColeBreit Engineering has become a top choice for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering and design consulting services in Bend, Central Oregon and beyond. In 2021, Breit expanded further and purchased her father’s engineering firm. The process of merging both engineering firms began in 2022, and still takes up much of Breit’s workday.
With that merger, ColeBreit Engineering now has offices in Monterey, Napa and Santa Cruz, California. As one of the foremost engineers in the area now, Breit has taken the chance to look back on her career, and provide some insight into how she got to where she is today.
“My graduating class of engineers in college was 80 people, and only four graduates were women,” Breit said. “Statistically, we are still very much a minority in this industry.”
Breit mentioned that when she first moved to Bend, she felt the need to dress and act more masculine. “I felt like a fish out of water for the first few years. Bend was not only a cultural shift from rural California, but I also felt like I needed to give my colleagues less to latch on to, in terms of gender. Acting and dressing more masculine helped me gain credibility and respect in this industry,” Breit said. “Even if my colleagues didn’t have any malicious intent, I could tell that I was subconsciously treated differently. Over the years, once I felt more like an industry insider with respect from my colleagues, I began to regain and reclaim my femininity.”
For Breit, rising to the occasion and taking on a challenge comes naturally. “If you give me a challenge, I will rise to it.” This attitude of attacking your problems and facing challenges head-on is the same advice Breit would give to young women looking to break into a male-dominated field.
On the note of advice for future generations, Breit also sets an example simply by living her life as a leader. “I always try to think about how I am doing the best I can for the future. I have three daughters, and I think about how growing up with a mom who owns an engineering firm just isn’t a big deal to them, in a good way. Simply existing as a woman in a powerful position helps normalize the idea of women being respected and welcome in fields such as engineering.”
At the end of the day, Breit preaches equality above all else. “We’re all just people. Some of my best friends are men, and our differences are smaller than we think. If we want to be seen as equal, we should treat others as equals. I was always true to what I liked and what I wanted to do. If I was scared, I wouldn’t be true to my true purpose. To young women, I would say stay true to yourself, live fearlessly and follow your passions.”