Designs used globally created from within walls of her own home

When most parents take their children to a recreational water park, the odds are excellent they do not spend much time examining the beams and braces supporting the slides, nor do they study the balance between structure and water.

But then most parents are not like Nancy Patton Ferrell, a den mother in the Glendora 1st Ward, Glendora California Stake and a BYU civil engineering graduate who works at home to structurally design water parks.To the tall, slender woman in her mid-30s, water playgrounds are much more than places for splashing and sliding. They are sites to analyze the characteristics of water to see how fast or slow the water stream is going and how deep or shallow it is. And, as a structural designer, she looks at the delicate balance between structural strength and hydrodynamic forces.

Hers is the kind of business where, if she were told she is all wet, she could take it as a compliment. Her structural design work has been used on numerous parks and pools in the United States, Europe, Asia and the islands of the Pacific.

As global as her profession appears, however, Sister Ferrell said what especially pleases her is that she can do most of the work from her home-based office in this peaceful California community near Los Angeles. The world of technology, she remarked, has made it possible for her, and her husband Doug (also an engineer), to leave the corporate office for equally challenging careers at home.

Sister Ferrell seems to have found a way to blend her work into a lifestyle that means she gets to be den mother and music coach to her four children and still pursue her career in engineering.

The trade-off is that she gives up some time-consuming activities in which others might engage. She has little time for such leisure activities as browsing in stores or talking on the telephone with friends. She expects time for these activities will come later when her children are grown.

"When I got married, I wanted to have several children and be very involved in their lives," Sister Ferrell reflected. "At the same time, I had sacrificed time, energy and fun to obtain an engineering degree and pass the professional civil engineering examination. I had paid my dues."

A good high school student in math and science, she had read a Reader's Digest article that put engineering at the top of a list of top 10 future careers.

"So I decided to become an engineer, and the variety of headings under civil engineering with waters, structures and soils interested me," she said. "I really didn't know what I was getting into."

The Las Vegas native also did not comprehend that by accepting a scholarship to attend BYU, she was entering an overwhelmingly predominant LDS school as a non-Mormon. She felt her minority status keenly, not only as a non-Mormon but also as a lone female in engineering classrooms crammed with older, married male students with children.

Her determination to make it through a rigorous program impressed both her future husband, Doug Ferrell, and engineering professor Olani Durrant, who became her mentor.

Brother Ferrell had been her lab instructor, and said she never let him get away with anything. "She was one of the most inquisitive people I have ever met," he said. "Insisting on knowing more than the answer has made her an exceptional analytical engineer."

In 1978 Brother Ferrell graduated magna cum laude in engineering and headed to California to accept an engineering position. He made a one-day detour to play tennis with his good friend Nancy, however, and realized they were in love. Nancy by then was interested in the Church and Doug left her a copy of the Book of Mormon with his testimony inscribed. She read the book and took the missionary discussions and was soon baptized. They were married later that year and then sealed in the Los Angeles Temple in January 1980.

Sister Ferrell concluded her studies at California Polytechnic State University and transferred the credits so she could be a 1980 BYU graduate.

Her water structure opportunities evolved from many projects that began when she worked for two years as an engineer-in-training at the petro chemical design firm C.F. Braun.

She passed her professional licensing exam while pregnant with her first child. After her daughter was born, Sister Ferrell said she realized the best way to balance family and career was to create her own opportunities. By converting a room in the home into an office, and using personal computers, a fax machine, copier and an arm load of the finest engineering books, she said she and her husband have developed a lucrative and stimulating career.

Her first home projects were tilt-ups, reinforced concrete structures, similar to those she had learned to do at Braun. Brother Ferrell's experience and contacts with California Pools led to her work in the newly emerging recreational water field.

With Brother Ferrell available and eager to conduct field work, Sister Ferrell rarely has to leave her home office that contains small desks to accommodate her children as they do their homework.

Brother Ferrell developed his own water specialties during several years as an executive vice president with California Pools and Spas before taking the plunge into self-employment with his wife.

"I love working with Doug, and I am perfectly content to do most of my work without leaving the house," Sister Ferrell said. "My career is extremely important to me, but what concerns me most is creating a successful family."

Much of Sister Ferrell's professional work deals with ensuring that structures have sufficient strength to withstand the pressures of outside forces. She applies that same philosophy to "engineer" a strong family that includes two daughters and two sons: Monica Joy, 10; John William, 9; Jeffrey Burdett, 7; and Kirsty Ann, 4.

"We enjoy having our children with us," she remarked. "It takes a lot of discipline and organization to meet the needs of our clients and our children with a home business, but it's worth it. There is a precise rhythm to how we operate, and while it all comes apart occasionally, it works well most of the time.

"When the children were babies, I learned to work in the time spaces when they were napping and sleeping. Now my youngest is a pre-schooler, and during the four hours she is at school, I don't get up from the desk. After I pick her up, we have lunch and she can tell me what she did that morning. We spend a lot of really neat time with each other. I do the same with my other three also."

She also sees the family's business choices as an ideal way for the children to know their father. "I'm really glad the children get to see so much of their father when they are small," she said.

"We let our children know they are our first priority," Brother Ferrell added. "If someone has a need, we can just turn off the computer screen and give full attention to whichever child needs it. With the flick of a switch, it's easy to return to the work."

"Getting to see Doug a lot is another bonus, because we are best friends," Sister Ferrell said. "I know our choice is not for everyone, but it certainly works for us."

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