Everyday engineers series: Maureen O’Connell, P.Eng

This is week two of National Engineering and Geoscience Month (NEGM) in Canada. To keep raising awareness of everyday engineers, next up …

MaureenMaureen O’Connell is a professional engineer and employed with Golder in their Contaminated Sites group at the Vancouver office. She received her engineering license in 2016. She is the mother of one inquisitive 4 year old and one charming yet cunning 2 year old.

Maureen, what inspired you to become an engineer?

My grandfather on my mother’s side was an engineer, but I never took much interest in his career during his living years. I would say I learned more about engineering during high school when exploring career options and university programs. I knew I wanted to pursue a career that dealt with the environment, and was inspired to study engineering, as I thought it would give me the greatest skill set to tackle environmental issues.

Where did you go to university and what field of engineering did you study?

I went to the University of Waterloo and studied Environmental Engineering for my undergraduate degree. I stayed on for a Master’s degree in the same department.

What adventures have you had along the way?

I studied abroad at the University of Leeds for a semester during my undergraduate degree. I was surprised by the differences in lifestyle between being an engineering undergraduate at Leeds versus Waterloo. This made me appreciate the quality of education I was receiving at my home university.

Co-op was a great experience.  It had me move 11 times in 5 years, and live with a variety of people and living situations. I hope I never forget the time I returned to my dorm room to discover potatoes everywhere, or the basement suite I lived in where the shower leaked into the carpeted hallway every time it was used. Co-op always brought an adventure of one type or another.

What work do you do now? What has been your favourite experience? What is the biggest challenge?

I am a consulting engineer for Golder. I currently work on landfill gas migration projects and remedial option assessments for multiple contaminated sites. One of my most unique project experiences has been travelling to Haida Gwaii and being helicoptered into the site. I have also enjoyed working at one of the larger landfills in BC on multiple projects. Most people think this strange, but every time I visit a landfill, I am fascinated by this perspective of our societal consumption. I enjoy the science and problem solving behind understanding contamination at a site – where it originates and how it has migrated.

When you look back, do you see anything from your childhood that may have influenced you to become an engineer (e.g. played with Lego)?

I recall lying in my bed at night about age 5 and counting with my dad as high as I could go before going to sleep. I think this was likely my basis for being strong in math throughout school, which gave me the confidence to tackle engineering. My grade 10 geography class sparked my passion for environmental protection. I still remember doing projects on acid rain, globalization and climate change (or “global warming” as it was more often called back then).

What is so great about being an engineer?

Probably the best thing about being an engineer is finding mental challenge in my day to day job. This means I’m rarely watching the clock, and more likely, asking myself where the time went. I also enjoy the continued learning from my job, and that many of my colleagues are continuously striving to improve their technical excellence.

Thank you, Maureen, for sharing your story.

If you haven’t yet checked out some NEGM events near you, I would encourage you to do so this week. And don’t forget to check back here for more stories from everyday engineers!

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