The American Council of Engineering Companies of Colorado named Karen Maestas, MS civil engineering 2001, the 2014 Outstanding Woman in Engineering. This prestigious award recognizes an outstanding woman in a leadership position for achievements in the engineering profession and for being a visible role model for young engineers.
Maestas, a senior project manager at URS Corporation, manages a complex portfolio of mine reclamation projects that has grown annually from approximately $500,000 in 2007 to more than $8 million in 2013. These projects involve numerous state and federal requirements and a host of technical and implementation challenges.
Using her expert technical abilities, management and communication skills and a thorough understanding of business operations, Maestas leads a large and diverse technical team that provides a wide range of turnkey services for these multi-state mine sites. Her ability to lead multiple, concurrent and interconnected technical projects and to communicate effectively about complex technical subjects in a way that is accessible to the public are hallmarks of her career.
Under her leadership, URS has been working with a university to test a biological treatment method to address elevated sulfate levels present in acid rock drainage at a mine site. Maestas’ team is also experimenting with spent brewer’s grain, ordinarily a waste product of beer production, as a carbon source, which is a promising “green” alternative for mine water cleanup.
“It is such an honor to be recognized as outstanding in my profession,” Maestas says. “Solving problems is something I love to do, and throughout my career, I have certainly dealt with many challenging situations. Being involved in successful environmental cleanups is one of the most gratifying parts of my job. It’s amazing to see technology in action.”
As an active community member, she also speaks out to promote math and science education to students ranging from elementary school to higher education.
“I’ve had great mentors over the years, both men and women. When I graduated from college more than 20 years ago, about one in five engineers was a woman, and that has not really changed much in the last two decades.”
This is something she hopes will change. Leading by example, Maestas encourages women to pursue careers in engineering and science. She offers these words of advice.
“Engineering is a challenging profession, and it takes dedication and perseverance to successfully complete your engineering education. Be confident, and make sure you listen carefully to your mentors along the way—they have a lot to teach you about the real world of engineering beyond the classroom. As an engineer, strive to maintain a balance between big-picture problem solving and detailed technical proficiency; both are important.
“Your success as an engineer often comes down to how well you understand the problem at hand, and whether you can communicate clearly and effectively to bring the right technical solution. Engineering is a rewarding profession, and I encourage women to wholeheartedly pursue their dreams!”