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Gannett Fleming Awards 2023 Forces of Change Scholarship

Gannett Fleming Awards 2023 Forces of Change Scholarship

May 26, 2023
A female professional in a gray suit has dark hair pulled into a bun.

Veronica Aguirre is a senior unities project manager for Presidio Trust and this year’s scholarship winner.

At Gannett Fleming, we believe learning is the pathway to leadership. This is why we’re proud to support future leaders in the water industry through the Gannett Fleming Forces of Change Scholarship as part of the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) scholarship program. Gannett Fleming awards this $5,000 academic scholarship to an undergraduate or master’s-level engineering student who is passionate about improving the future of the water industry.

This year, we’re pleased to introduce Veronica Aguirre, a graduate of the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego), as our 2023 recipient. With a passion for utility infrastructure, her most recent work focuses on launching a long-range, comprehensive utility implementation strategy that aims to improve water, wastewater, and electrical infrastructure systems for the Presidio of San Francisco. Her diligent work will be instrumental to the continued operation, resilience, and sustainability of utility services for the Presidio community for years to come.

Read on to learn more about Veronica’s passion for helping communities access clean water and her interests outside the classroom.

You graduated from UC San Diego and have since been working in infrastructure. What's next?

I graduated from UC San Diego in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in environmental engineering and a minor in urban studies and planning. I’ve been involved in planning, designing, and constructing utility infrastructure improvements for public and private sectors worldwide.

Most recently, I was accepted to the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), where beginning this fall, I will pursue a Master of Science in civil and environmental engineering with an emphasis in energy, civil infrastructure, and climate. I look forward to studying under industry-leading experts, leveraging the latest research and technology to analyze, plan, and manage infrastructure improvements more effectively.

While my undergraduate studies at UC San Diego trained me in foundational skills to solve a wide breadth of engineering problems, at the graduate level, I hope to refine and better inform my interest and ability to monitor, assess, and plan infrastructure systems toward sustainable and resilient optimization.

What is leading you to pursue a career in engineering?

I’ve been interested in figuring out how things work since I was young.

I want to apply my problem-solving abilities to the essential infrastructure providing clean drinking water and sanitation for sustaining life. I recognize how the world’s most impoverished people have the worst infrastructure and, hence, are most vulnerable to the detrimental effects of climate change. For example, I have witnessed the public health conditions of favelas in Brazil, where homes are washed out in landslides, and sewage floods the streets from lack of storm drain and sewer collection systems.

I hope to apply my knowledge and skills in civil engineering to help the world’s most impoverished communities gain access to clean water and sanitation to improve public health. I hope to bring awareness to these issues that many take for granted. These issues have global implications.

Being a civil and environmental engineer with expertise in infrastructure adaptation strategies would put me at the forefront of promoting a global shift towards clean energy use, helping fight against rising ocean temperatures, and preventing other existential threats to our planet to ensure prosperity for future generations.

With a specialization in water, what positive impact do you hope to have on the water industry?

I hope to apply my expertise in water engineering to facilitate holistic infrastructure improvements wherever I work. A big challenge is the need to replace America’s failing infrastructure that is aged beyond its service life while improving sustainability and resilience to climate change. I hope to further analyze those issues through graduate studies and arrive at better solutions.

The UC Berkeley graduate program that I will be attending is located in the San Francisco Bay Area, and offers a living laboratory for modeling solutions to urban infrastructure project challenges. These solutions can be applied to many urban environments worldwide. I am particularly interested in analyzing infrastructure adaptation to a changing climate from engineering, environmental, economic, and management perspectives.

I hope to use my ability to organize and synthesize complex engineering data in integrated models to help communities make better-informed water and wastewater infrastructure decisions. With my ability to speak multiple languages, including, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and Portuguese, I look forward to making a positive impact with sustainable and climate-resilient infrastructure solutions around our increasingly urban world.

Tell us about your leadership experience within the industry.

I’ve held leadership positions in:

  • International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE): an international internship exchange organization for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and architecture students with U.N. General Consultative Status. Notably, I served as:
    • Founding co-president of the UC San Diego student chapter of IAESTE.
    • An ambassador of the U.S. at the IAESTE 2007 Join Us to Motivate People (JUMP) International Exchange Conference in Istanbul, Turkey.
    • A representative of the U.S. at the 2018 Annual IAESTE Alumni Conference in Berlin, Germany.
  • Engineers Without Borders San Francisco Professional Chapter Fiji Water Project.
    • For this project, I served as one of five lead designers who traveled to the Fijian villages of Buca, Loa, and Vunikura for a 3-week implementation trip in 2012.
  • I was also a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), San Francisco Section.
  • In addition to professional organizations, I have participated in various Christian, non-profit organizations over the years, with leadership roles including:
    • Small group leader and mentor to younger women at my local church.
    • Youth group counselor for high school and middle school students.
    • Counselor to middle school students at summer youth camp.
    • Preschool Sunday school teacher.

You're passionate about infrastructure in urban communities. Tell us a little about your experience with urban community infrastructure.

My background in infrastructure engineering and planning work across divergent urban community settings has been instrumental in cultivating my passion for urban infrastructure, especially for underserved populations. Growing up and working in San Francisco has given me direct insight into current urban infrastructure system problems.

Many municipalities face an urgency to integrate improvements for sustainability and resilience as climate changes become extreme, service demands exceed capacity, and failure risks increase. In addition to limited resources, long-term comprehensive infrastructure planning is often absent or fragmented across jurisdictional boundaries. I have seen many costly mistakes and practices in water system management from a lack of planning and coordination between different departments.

From where I was born in the Mission District to my first job following my undergraduate studies in the Bay View/Hunter’s Point Shipyard Districts in San Francisco, I experienced how the poorest communities also have the worst infrastructure. Working in the Presidio of San Francisco opened my eyes to the dramatic difference in resources and conditions between wealthy and poor neighborhoods as it relates to infrastructure development.

I was a key in-house utility engineering representative for the design of water and wastewater services at the Tunnel Tops, Battery Bluffs, and Quartermaster Reach Marsh projects in the Presidio of San Francisco. These projects were extraordinary experiences in quality design and robust community partnerships. In every circumstance, I adapted infrastructure improvements to the specific needs of each development.

My experiences with urban community infrastructure help me recognize how important it is to understand the differences between diverse urban neighborhoods to meet the unique infrastructure needs of each. I hope that advocacy and awareness will improve infrastructure for underserved urban areas.

How will this scholarship help you achieve your educational goals?

This scholarship will provide me with the resources and flexibility to research and complete professional certifications during graduate school. This funding will allow me to take supplemental coursework to get the Engineering and Business for Sustainability (EBS) Certificate and my master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley.

When not working to advance your engineering acumen, what do you like to do in your free time?

I enjoy a variety of hobbies and interests, from traveling around the world to investing in my local San Francisco community.

My favorite activities while traveling include hiking in nature, exploring neighborhoods, admiring architecture, and wandering around museums. I also like to taste different foods and visit locals. I enjoy cooking, crafts, do-it-yourself projects at home, and spending time with my family and friends at cultural events, music concerts, and sporting events — go Giants/Warriors/49ers! I also enjoy volunteering with Help One Child to provide childcare for foster families.

Start and grow your career at Gannett Fleming.

Learn more about Gannett Fleming  and our award-winning projects, and apply to our open positions today!

Michael Brown, PE
Senior Project Manager, Water/Wastewater
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