How Kamila O’Neill, PE is Shaping the World of Engineering
By Regina Sibilia
Women and men all over the world have an opportunity to shape the future roles of women in STEM and specifically the engineering industry. Kamila O’Neill is a Structural Project Engineer with Tighe & Bond whose professional experience focuses on the design and condition assessment of a wide range of buildings and bridges. Throughout her career, O’Neill has designed commercial buildings, evaluated and repaired existing buildings, improved dam spillways, and designed bridges.
Finding her way into a STEM career happened earlier than most when she went searching for a way to turn her aptitude for computer-aided drafting into a full-fledged career.
“At first, I thought of architecture because I had no idea what civil engineering was. When I got to ninth grade, we had a career exploration class and civil engineering came up. I remember thinking, what is this? So, I started reading up on it and I stumbled upon the structural part of civil engineering and it just clicked,” recalled O’Neill.
Once finding her love for engineering, she worked her way through an accelerated civil engineering program, obtaining her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northeastern University. Through the university’s cooperative education (co-op) experience, she discovered Tighe & Bond.
She continued to expand the scope of her expertise as a Structural Engineer and has recognized the impact of her work on communities in the Northeast and around the world. In 2019, O’Neill was part of a team of engineers from Tighe & Bond who partnered with The Cashman Family Foundation to design a new bridge over the Rivière Cochon Gras for the residents of Perches, Haiti. The remote community relied on an unpaved road to access facilities to the north, including a local hospital. The road was impeded by the river and during the several rainy months, the crossing was frequently impassable. O’Neill and her colleagues contributed design services for new abutment walls and supports for the bridge.
Now six years into her career, she is also recognizing not only how her work impacts society, but also how women and others are shifting the norms of her industry.
“The industry is changing and as more women go into it, we all have to adjust and learn. It’s going to be a learning curve for everyone,” explained O’Neill. “It’s not just women entering the industry either; when you consider the movement of gender identity and gender neutrality where for example, we use the [preferred] pronouns for our coworkers. That’s going to be a whole new wave moving forward within our industry as well.”
She is part of this change by becoming involved in groups like the Pioneer Valley Women in STEM. This organization is the first of its kind in the Pioneer Valley, enabling professionals like her to work with young women during seminars, networking events, career fairs, workshops, and internships. For O’Neill, progress in STEM education for all is paramount, and she is already seeing a new mindset in school systems.
She noted, “I do think schools are realizing the importance of introducing STEM to all kids early. “[My coworkers and I] get involved with younger generations. Even if it’s just for a one-day event, at least it’s exposing them to something in STEM. I think it’s a matter of being involved and spreading the word about STEM events to open it up to all kinds of kids, because an issue is that a lot of kids that might get exposed to these events could be considered privileged. There is a need to expose everybody to STEM education.”
As new generations of aspiring engineers begin to climb their own ladders to success, O’Neill is advising them to be fearless in the face of doubt.
“I think the biggest thing is, if you really want to pursue something, don’t question yourself. If a girl or anyone wants to go into civil engineering, don’t be afraid or worried about standing out or being the only one,” said O’Neill. “If you’re good at it and you want to do it and you put the hard work in, you will be successful and enjoy what you do. Challenge society, why not? Just go for it.”