Orla Pease - Vice President of Digital Innovation, AECOM
U.S. based Orla Pease (formerly Casserly) works for AECOM, one of the world’s leading infrastructure firms. Since graduating from Civil Engineering at UCC, she has gained more than 20 years’ experience in traffic and transportation engineering, beginning her career planning ‘Park & Ride’ sites in Cork city. Her current role involves leading the digital and innovation initiative across all of AECOM’s business in the Americas. We caught up with Orla to talk engineering, influences and watching Friends in the college bar.
- Course/subjects studied in UCC and year of graduation
For as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a civil engineer and being from Cork, I had the Civil and Environmental engineering course in my sights from a young age. I graduated with a BE degree (Hons) in 1998 and then went onto pursue a masters’ in Engineering Science with an emphasis on traffic engineering which I received in 1999.
- Best memory of UCC
I have so many great memories, but there’s one that has come up a lot lately when talking to my 16-year-old daughter after she binge-watched all the Friends episodes. During my time at UCC, the TV show Friends was at its most popular, and during the study break at Easter, the entire Boole Library would exit at 7.25pm to go to the college bar to watch the latest episode. We would all roll in laughter together for 30 minutes and then head back to the library to continue studying.
- How has your time at UCC helped you to get to where you are now?
Having a Civil Engineering degree from such a well accredited college meant I could go anywhere in the world. The experience I gained during pursuit of my masters, working on real world projects with the Transportation Research Unit on projects for the National Roads Authority was invaluable. Additionally, my masters research and thesis, identified the optimum locations for ‘Park & Ride’ sites around the city. It was amazing to see them become reality! I was able to take those experiences with me when I moved to the US and having a perspective of traffic engineering in Europe helped propel my career abroad. I worked directly in traffic and transportation engineering for much of my career, ultimately shifting into management. I’ve always seen traffic engineering as unique in the engineering world as it requires not only details and specifics like other engineering disciplines, but also the vision and planning side to determine how and why things should be built. It has its foundation in Civil Engineering but overlaps with technology. It’s that training and exposure, along with my excitement for new technology, which has led me to my current position leading Digital and Innovation across all of our business in the Americas for AECOM, which is one of the largest engineering firms in the world.
- What is your advice to current UCC students?
I know it might sound corny but dream big and keep an open mind! Don’t be comfortable - push yourself to try new things. Our world is changing at an exponential rate. The lines between the digital and physical world are blurring, and we cannot even conceive what we will be doing ten years from now. So always continue to learn, you are not finished when you graduate from UCC, you are just starting.
- What person/people at UCC had the most positive influence on you?
Without a doubt, Dr Donncha Ó Cinnéide was the person with the most positive impact on me personally, and on my career. He was such a wonderful mentor for me while studying for my masters. In a very nice way, he would push me to try things that I didn’t want to do, such as teaching a class to undergraduate students. I was terrified to stand up in front of a lecture hall, but he helped me work through that, and in the process, help me grow and develop as a professional. I now speak in public regularly, most recently as Chair for a large transportation engineering safety conference at Pennsylvania State University where I spoke to 750 attendees.
- Were you involved in any Clubs or Societies?
I’m sure I signed up for a lot of clubs and societies, but they were not a focus for me. I do remember trying out the Canoe Club once, but after a mishap in the river I decided it wasn’t for me!