Engineer studies potential risks to the environment

by Marie-Helen Goyetche

Mulliganb+wCatherine Mulligan feels that women have a special affinity for environmental engineering. "Women are curious, and like making discoveries. They also want to help protect the environment for future generations."

Her twin passions for women's advancement and the preservation of the environment came relatively late. When she was in high school and in CEGEP, she didn't know what field to pursue, but at her CEGEP's Career Day, she met faculty members from McGill's Engineering Dep-artment, and the idea of being an engineer piqued her curiosity.

"In school, I enjoyed math, chemistry and physics," she said. "There had to be a field where I could combine the subjects I loved and that also had positions available."

Mulligan took her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in chemical engineering at McGill, then did environmental research at SNC Lavalin Research for 10 years, while completing her PhD in civil engineering, also at McGill. She joined Concordia's Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering last year.

This term, she is teaching an undergraduate course, Introduction to Environmental Engin- eering, and a graduate course, Aspects of Site Remediation. She is supervising eight graduate students, as well.

"The environmental engineer informs others about potential risks to the environment," Mulligan said. "When a spill occurs, I can analyze it, and help decide the best way to treat it without adding additional damage. It is a relatively new field, with growing challenges every day."

In the 1980s, 11 per cent of environmental engineers were women, compared with approximately 25 per cent now. Not only are there more jobs available since the '80s, but more women are applying for these positions.

"Those figures are about right," Mulligan said, "yet in the academic sector, there are far fewer women -- only three women in our department at Concordia of twenty-five. But those numbers aren't set in stone, they're growing."

As more women enter engineering, younger girls will have role models to look up to. "I only know of one company where the vice-president is a woman," she said, "but I'm confident this will change."

The difference between working in industry and the academic sector are her hours. Instead of a Monday-to-Friday, 8:30-to-4:30 schedule, she puts in many hours in faculty meetings and meeting her students.

"Being in the academic sector gives me more flexibility within my schedule to work on various projects, compared to before, when I'd lose myself within bigger projects."

She is looking forward to this summer, when she can do field work with her students and start work of her own in soil remediation. "There's a sense of challenge and discovery with every new project."

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