November 8, 2021

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Emma O'Leary to Present on Careers in Engineering at University of Minnesota

Emma O'Leary (Minnesota) will present on careers in civil, environmental, and geotechnical engineering to first-year students in the class Introduction to Civil, Environmental, and Geo-Engineering at the University of Minnesota on November 10, 2021.

Emma's co-presenter is Rachel Tenney, University of Minnesota.

Emma O'Leary is a Staff Professional based in Minnesota with experience in civil and environmental engineering. She focuses on water and wastewater design, remediation and phytoremediation, and environmental microbiology.

The University of Minnesota System is one of the most comprehensive in the nation, with offerings to meet the interests of students and the changing needs of our society.


We are two early-career environmental engineers passionate about engaging with environmental justice issues and asking our colleagues to do the same. Environmental justice is a tenant of social justice that specifically focuses on the equitable and representative development and implementation of environmental policies and practices. While we have limited lived and professional expertise in this area, we seek collective reckoning with our fields' roles and responsibilities relating to justice. How can we learn from enduring injustices such that we can use our capacity as engineers, operators, designers, and leaders to build an equitable future? 

In order to examine different facets of environmental justice issues in the context of engineering practice, we present three case studies--drinking water in the Navajo Nation, fire management practices, and the consequences of redlining on public infrastructure in St. Paul, MN. The creation of the Native American reservation system continues to create issues with inequity. Sovereign indigenous nations within the United States do not have access to the federal funds allocated for water infrastructure, leading to a lack of clean water access and plumbing on reservations. For example, a history of mining on the Navajo Nation contaminates the water supply causing health problems and creating an additional burden on the already stressed water infrastructure. Displacement of indigenous peoples from the western United States onto reservations prohibited indigenous practices of land stewardship including "good fire" practices. For centuries, many indigenous cultures set controlled fires to clear out brush and return nutrients to the soil. These practices had ceremonial purposes in addition to promoting forest health. Similarly, required relocation of residents of the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul, MN disproportionately affected minoritized populations. Redlining, a practice used to prevent people from owning homes in certain areas through discriminatory lending, led to the creation of de facto segregated communities in "undesirable' locations such as the Rondo neighborhood. The selection of the Rondo neighborhood for the I-94 corridor directly resulted in the destruction of a thriving cultural center including over 600 homes and 300 businesses predominantly owned by Black people. The I-94 corridor continues to contribute to health problems associated with highway-related pollution that affects community members who still live in the area.

We will approach this discussion with a humble and forward-facing lens, drawing from experts' lived and professional experiences. How can we take steps to raise consciousness about environmental justice issues in our professional capacities? How can we draw from others' lived expertise, elevating their voices, when making engineering decisions? We hope to facilitate an introductory discussion of environmental justice and give participants resources to educate themselves and learn more from those impacted by and those who work directly with environmental justice issues.

More Information

About the University of Minnesota:
For consultation regarding civil, environmental, and geotechnical engineering, contact Emma at
Learn more about Emma: Emma O'Leary – LinkedIn