Blue Devil of the Week: A Rare Female Plumber

No two days are the same for Susan McDaniel, a Duke Facilities Management plumber

Even though she’s a third-generation plumber, Susan McDaniel is an anomaly in her field. She’s the only female plumber in @DukeFacilitiesManagement, and according to 2016 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, females comprise just 1.4 percent of plumbers in th
Susan McDaniel, a plumber at Duke, works on a second-floor water fountain in the Levine Science Research Center on West Campus.

Susan McDaniel

Position: Certified Licensed Plumber in Duke Facilities Management Plumbing Shop

Time at Duke: One year

What I do at Duke:

“I basically do any and all plumbing that needs to be done,” said McDaniel, as she took a break inside the Levine Science Research Center, where she rerouted water lines in a second-floor water fountain. “No two days are the same,” she added. One day, McDaniel, who is part of a nine-member team, might be clearing a stopped sewer line or fixing a leaky faucet, and the next, she’s refitting a pipe on any part of the university campus. A natural problem solver, she loves the mentally and physically challenging nature of plumbing and has worked in the trade since age 11, when she tagged along to work with her late father, also a plumber, in her native Wilmington, Del.

An anomaly in plumbing:

McDaniel is the only female plumber in Duke’s Facilities Management Department. Female plumbers comprise 1.4 percent of plumbers in the U.S., according to 2016 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. McDaniel has given girls basic plumbing classes through her church to get females interested in the trade. "Plumbing’s a good field for anybody because it’s lucrative and can’t be outsourced,” she said. “People will always want hot water,” she added.

What I love about Duke:

“The benefits are great,” said McDaniel, adding that her work is lower-stress from the years she spent managing her own plumbing businesses. McDaniel, who has computer science and elementary education bachelor’s degrees, enjoys working in a university setting.  “One of the things I like about working in a university setting is reading the research posters that are posted in some departments. Sometimes I don't understand much of it, but they are always interesting,” McDaniel said.

A memorable day at work:

Snaking the sewer line (unstopping the line with a long flexible drill) at Duke University Chapel. “Snaking, or cabling sewer lines is as much art as physical work. Feeling the cable going the right way versus the wrong way in a line can be very difficult. Getting that feel takes a lot of experience,” McDaniel said.

First ever job:

Sorting pipe fittings for her dad at age 11. “It was boring as all get out, but I know pipe fittings and I developed a strong work ethic,” McDaniel said. McDaniel credits her father, Bill McDaniel, with her drive and determination to succeed in a traditionally male-dominated field. “Being his daughter, it was okay to be strong,” she said. “The message we got as kids, especially as girls, was that we could be anything we wanted to be.” McDaniel grew up with three sisters and two brothers.

When I’m not at work, I like to:

“Talk about my family, especially my grandchildren and my wife and show pictures of them.”

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about:

McDaniel is an avid quilter and devotes a lot of time to the craft through a church group.

Best advice ever received:

“Just to let stuff roll off your back and don’t take things too personally,” McDaniel said.

Nominate a colleague to be the next Blue Devil of the Week.