Geological Science and Engineering

Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering
Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering

Alumni Spotlight: Catherine Corrigan

FOX-C Ekalugad Fjord, collecting samples downgradient of the sewage outfall,2008.

BA ’91, BSc ’94, MSc ’98

Catherine (Cathy) first completed a B.A. in Economics at Queen's in 1991. But it was during her studies that Cathy realized engineering was a much better fit for her. She then decided to pursue Geological Engineering, starting with a B.Sc. and eventually completing her M.Sc (both at Queen's as well). Her M.Sc. was focused on hydrogeology and geochemistry under Drs. Heather Jamieson and Vicki Remenda. Since leaving Queen's, Cathy has gone on to live in many remote locations, turning contaminated sites into safe, accessible ones.

Can you please describe your current job? 

I currently work as a senior project engineer with AECOM.  Almost my entire career so far has been spent working on the remediation of abandoned mine and military sites at remote locations in the Canadian Arctic or sub-Arctic. These projects are multi-faceted, involving a wide variety of work, including: soil and water contamination; building and infrastructure demolition and hazardous materials removal (“abatement”); the stabilization of old dumps, landfills, waste rock piles and tailings ponds; designing new landfills to house demolition waste and contaminated soil, and soil treatment facilities (like landfarms) and identification of appropriate locations to build these on-site; identification of local sources of gravel or appropriate bedrock quarry locations to provide the necessary aggregate for building new landfills or stabilizing existing facilities; and in some cases, completing a detailed assessment of background geochemistry to develop site-specific soil remediation criteria. Working on these jobs provides exposure to all of these varied work elements, and requires a lot of “big picture” thinking to develop an efficient and comprehensive remedial design.  

I initially started out working on project elements that were in line with my geological training, but over time, became knowledgeable in all elements by learning from other team members, to the point where my most recent project was focused almost entirely on demolition and high risk hazardous materials abatement. 

What is the greater impact of what you do?

In essence, my job is turning a site with contaminant and physical hazards into one that is safe for anyone to access, and ideally, in the case of remote sites, into one where Aboriginal people can safely harvest in the area again.   

What would you say has been the highlight of your career?

Well, given that I’m only half-way through my career, I like to think that the highlight is yet to come!  On a personal level, I think the highlights so far have been the hugely varied and oftentimes stunning work locales that I have been to, and the exposure to Aboriginal culture while working at them. Professionally, I think the highlight so far has been my most recent project which was developing the job specifications and then overseeing the work for the hazardous materials abatement and deconstruction of the Roaster Complex at Giant Mine. This building complex was where arsenic was separated out of the arsenopyrite ore into arsenic trioxide. It has been touted as “the most contaminated building facility” in Canada, and abatement required simultaneously dealing with asbestos, arsenic, and cyanide. Cleaning up and dismantling the buildings within this complex was a very high risk, challenging job and one under close public scrutiny, given the close proximity of the complex to the widely used highway leading out of Yellowknife.

Giant Mine Roaster Complex, 2013 – inspecting Baghouse infrastructure for removal of contaminants.

Where in the world has your career in geology taken you?

One of the reasons I selected geological as my discipline at the end of first year engineering was because I wanted to work outdoors and in remote locations. My career has not disappointed in that regard. I have worked at 30 different locations in the Canadian Arctic and sub-Arctic, stretching from near Carmacks, Yukon in the west, to the eastern-most tip (Cape Dyer) of Baffin Island, Nunavut, to Nanisivik near the north tip of Baffin Island, Nunavut.

I also had the amazing experience of working in Denmark – near Copenhagen – during a hiatus from my M.Sc. work, thanks to help from my M.Sc. supervisors Drs. Remenda and Jamieson. 

What was your most memorable experience at Queen’s University?

What is most memorable to me regarding my Queen’s experience is the infamous “Queen’s Spirit” and strong sense of community. In the last few years, I have come back for Homecoming for both my B.A. and B.Sc. degrees, and the turnout has been amazing; the depth of connections and friendships I made during my time at Queen’s have stood the test of time, and I am grateful for that.   

How do you feel your time in the Department of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering helped prepare you for your career?

I feel that one of the biggest strengths of my education in the Geology and Geological Engineering Department was the abundance of field work – for real world hands-on experience. The more extended field programs were also extremely valuable in learning to work as part of a team, which is a critical part of day to day work as a consulting engineer. Overall, I think, fundamentally, the feel of the entire department was one of being part of a cohesive group, due to the open relationships that existed between undergrads, grad students, and profs. My sense was that this was unique and special.  I have carried this mindset through to my career in dealing with contractors, support staff in remote camps, etc., and I think that has been a critical part of my success in working as the engineer overseeing these jobs, especially as a female engineer in work environments where women are uncommon.

What advice would you give to younger alumni or current students?

For first year students, picking an engineering discipline or science major may seem like an overwhelming task, but as my experience can attest, it does not necessarily lock you in to a certain area of work. You will almost always work as part of a team, and that is your opportunity to learn from other engineers and expand your horizons. I also cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting out into the field, witnessing how designs translate to construction, and of soliciting feedback regarding designs from experienced contractor workers who are the ones doing the building. I have become an infinitely better design engineer because of my time spent in the field overseeing the work, and seeking input from contractors on how the design could be improved in terms of constructability.  

More about Cathy:

I first travelled north to Yellowknife in March of 1998 and fell in love with the north. Eventually, I made it my home, moving to Yellowknife in May of 2012, where I get to enjoy Mother Nature’s playground right out my front door. I particularly enjoy kayaking. During the winter months, I get my paddling fix by going on kayaking vacations.

UPDATE: Cathy's project at Giant Mine won an Award of Excellence from the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies (ACEC) in Canada! More information about the project is available at:…/cce_aw…/2016/awards_excellence/a11.html


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