Heather Rosentrater: Ask Questions


July 26, 2022
Janean Schmidt | School of Engineering & Applied Science

"Do one thing every day that scares you." This quote from Eleanor Roosevelt has hung on the refrigerator of Heather Rosentrater (‘99 ) since her electrical engineering days at Gonzaga.

"It's a constant reminder for me. Every time that I do one of those things that scares me, I learn, grow, it gets easier the next time I do it. And I think that's part of my success," she told the young women of the SEAS Summer Immersion Program (SSIP).

The list of scary things one should do includes asking questions. Rosentrater acknowledged that asking questions can be uncomfortable, especially in a new situation or in a group of more experienced people.

"You're worried you'll ask the stupid question or waste people's time, as though everybody else already knows this. What I found is most of the time, most of the other people have the same question as well. You're helping out by asking questions," she reassured the students.

Questions are the best tool for learning, and Rosentrater believes that the real result of a STEM degree is the ability to ask the right questions.

"You've shown that you know how to learn, and you usually get a broader experience in your university classes. Once you graduate, that's when you really start learning. You start pulling from the knowledge that you have, and you know what resources are available to start answering those questions," she said.

Even at the professional level, questions are important. Engineering and computer science fields are so vast, it's impossible for one person to know everything -- even about their own specific discipline.

Rosentrater says that through her first decade at Avista, she felt different than her engineering colleagues. They were more experienced, and she believed she needed to act more like them and defer to their ideas.

That changed after the company used a personality assessment tool.

"It was this 'aha' moment. A lot of engineers were 'thinkers,' and I was a 'feeler.' It made me realize that all of us think differently, and my differences weren't wrong. They were just different. If I'd actually spoken up about that other way of thinking, it would have benefited the team, adding a new perspective to create a better solution," she said.

"That 'aha' gave me the confidence to speak up, to ask if we've thought about the issue another way. I think that would be the number one thing I wish I knew when I was younger, that those places that you're different from your fellow students or fellow colleagues, that’s good for the team."

That ability to speak up has the added benefit of helping Rosentrater learn something new every day, even after 26 years with Avista. With so much research and innovation in green energy systems, she has ample opportunity to ask questions.

"I'm excited to have a job where I don't know everything. Realizing that no one knows everything helped me become so much more comfortable asking questions and learning faster," she said.

Learn more about the SEAS Summer Immersion Program