Women in Construction Week 2021 Profile: Hannah Mohelnitzky
Wednesday, March 10, 2021 - 9:50am
City of Madison Engineering shared one profile a day as it celebrated National Women in Construction Week, March 7-13, 2021.
MADISON, WI – An alarm clock goes off at 3 a.m. The scheduled brew begins to drip coffee. City of Madison Engineering Division Public Information Officer Hannah Mohelnitzky gets ready for an early day to meet a local reporter for a morning show live interview about road construction beginning on the City’s newest street. While most days don’t start like this anymore, the early grind was routine for Mohelnitzky for years before her journey to the City.
“I was a news lady for many years. I thought I’d be doing this forever. Anchoring mornings, evenings, midday and reporting, as a journalist it was my job to share information and most importantly connect with my community on a daily basis,” Mohelnitzky said. “But that’s exactly why this opportunity in Engineering and the City is such a perfect fit for my skills.”
Instead of sharing information as a journalist, waking up to anchor a morning broadcast every day and asking the questions to City leaders, now, Mohelnitzky does the answering as the City Engineering Public Information Officer, who leads Division communications.
“It does take some time to get used to being on the other side of the questions, and then to speak about Engineering and our projects clearly so the public can understand,” Mohelnitzky said. “I often describe what I do as a filter. I work with our Engineering staff to understand what they’re doing, and explain it in a digestible way to the community.”
Mohelnitzky grew up in a northern Minnesota community, just ten miles from the Canadian border in Roseau, Minn. She credits her love of her community and teamwork to her small town values and playing hockey for 10 years.
“In a small town, it’s important to earn the trust of your community,” Mohelnitzky said. “You’re on a team with your community. Everyone works together to make it better.”
Mohelnitzky earned a bachelor’s degree in Communications and Journalism with a minor in business from the University of St. Thomas— St. Paul. She interned and worked at WCCO-TV, KSTP-TV, her college newsroom, TommieMedia.com, the World Press Institute and KDWB-FM.
“Infrastructure and government have always been in the background. When I interned, we’d always cover municipal or government news. It’s what people care about,” Mohelnitzky said.
After college, her journey led to Wausau, Wis. and Madison, Wis., where she reported and anchored the news for the next nearly six years.
“As a woman in the broadcast industry, you’re constantly being critiqued for your appearance, and yes, in a way different than other genders. You’re in the business of intense criticism because it’s important to keep our journalists accountable and ethical on facts. The core of journalism is truth,” Mohelnitzky said. “However, feedback gets murky, when it bleeds into the surface level parts of the industry, and you start to notice a different standard is set for other genders. By the public, by consultants, by your bosses, by your peers. Directly and indirectly. Sometimes in person, emails, social media, phone calls. Feedback is necessary. It’s what keeps everyone accountable. It’s expected in the industry to get good and bad feedback. I learned to have tough skin and grow through it.”
From reporting on historic flooding in Madison to the Sun Prairie explosion, infrastructure again resurfaced for Mohelnitzky, proving how much our community needs information about infrastructure.
“With flooding, we learned how the stormwater system and its design has real-life impacts. When the water is high, and it has no where to go, we need solutions,” Mohelnitzky said. “When the explosion happened in Sun Prairie, we learned how important the work of contractors are in general construction projects, and the safety rules that municipalities keep in place to keep its community safe during projects. It’s all infrastructure, and the community wants information.”
Mohelnitzky started at the City in 2018, and a lot is parallel: accountability, community, information sharing and impact she shares about all things infrastructure: road construction, stormwater, sanitary sewer, city buildings and more.
“I went from reporting on the impact, to being the impact,” Mohelnitzky said. “That’s what I love about Engineering. What we do, the people we have, matter to our community. Infrastructure is a necessity and direct way of improving life for our community. Communication can’t be an afterthought in what we do, it has to be on the front end, whether that be letters to residents, postcards, Facebook posts or public information meetings.”
Mohelnitzky said this career path and place in the construction industry surprised her.
“I would have never thought in college I’d be using my communications skills in government, let alone the construction industry. Now, I love it,” Mohelnitzky said. “We need more women to join in on the industry. We’re in a place where it’s more possible now than ever, especially when employers like the City, provide an inclusive, open pathway to success and leadership for women, people of color and marginalized genders.”
While some things haven’t changed for Mohelnitzky in her position at the City, she’s learned a few things along the way: there are wonderful careers and opportunity for women in the construction industry, the career path with a journalism degree isn’t a one-way street, and the alarm doesn’t have to go off for another few hours.
City of Madison Engineering shared one profile a day to celebrate National Women in Construction Week, March 8-13, 2021.
- Hannah Mohelnitzky, Public Information Officer, City of Madison Engineering Division, 608-669-3560, firstname.lastname@example.org