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Catriona Schmolke

Catriona Schmolke

Senior Vice President at Jacobs (MPhil Civil Engineering, Hydrogeochemistry of Minewater Pollution)

Sustainability in everyday engineering

Catriona Schmolke is Senior Vice-President of Jacobs, a Fortune 500 company. The company provides technical and professional engineering services plus specialty consulting worldwide. Catriona is also a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineers. She was honoured in 2016 for her contribution to sustainability in everyday engineering.

In her professional role, Catriona oversees Jacobs' health, safety, environment, sustainability, security, and resilience, within 51 countries. Catriona also leads a 55,000-person talent force, driving Jacobs' sustainability aspirations. These include the development and publishing of their 'PlanBeyond' strategy and ‘Climate Action’ plan. Highlights of the role so far include a trip to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. As well as a ‘behind the scenes’ visit to NASA's Kennedy Space Centre, where Jacobs is working on the next Mars manned space vehicle.

An image of Catriona Schmolke.

An interview with Catriona:

What did you enjoy most about Newcastle as a city and your time at Newcastle University?

I didn’t actually attend the university as an undergraduate. My degree was a research degree which I did whilst working full time and undertook my dissertation remotely.

Tell us what you have been up to since graduating from Newcastle University?

This was my second degree and I took it because I was super interested in the type of work I was involved with after graduating from Strathclyde as an Applied Geologist. So I graduated in 1985 from Strathclyde and went to work as a consultant engineering geologist in a UK consultancy.

I enjoyed my technical work and got more and more involved with mine water pollution and finding solutions. This led me to meet with Professor Paul Younger of Newcastle University civil engineering department. Paul was a world leading expert in mine water and he inspired me to want to do the research degree. He helped me to do this over 6 years and I completed my degree in 2003.

What is your current role, and what does it entail?

Promotion to Senior Vice President in Jacobs in 2016 was beyond my aspirations. Being selected for a global role; 51 countries and 75,000 employees, was a long way from where my career began. I have accountability for health, safety, environment, sustainability, security, resilience, and quality and it involved significant travel (pre COVID-19).

Highlights so far have been a trip to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, behind the scenes access to the Capitol building in Washington D.C. and to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where Jacobs is working on the next Mars manned space vehicle.

Every day I learn something from someone and it inspires me and encourages me to grow and invest in my network. I love knowing someone who can help!

Catriona Schmolke

Seeking the future solutions

How do you feel your degree has helped inform your work tackling climate change/advocating sustainability?

My degree had the principles of sustainability at its core, it was all focused on mine water pollution and prevention from new mines. In my professional career I was working with the aftermath of mining operations polluting aquifers and water courses. I was sure if we could do the mining all over again we could have taken more of a calculated approach to the mine design and prevented the pollution.

The process that I developed for my MPhil was to create the approach which could satisfy the environmental regulators that prevention of water pollution was being considered before the mine was opened and that mitigation of the pollution could be built into the planning conditions. I have always believed that there is a better way and this continues today as an engineer.

I was honoured as a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineers in 2016 for my contribution of sustainability to everyday engineering. In my professional role I lead a 55,000 person global company’s sustainability aspirations including developing our PlanBeyond strategy and publishing our Climate Action Plan in April 2020.

Who inspires your work?

I have been inspired by so many people throughout my career, and I actively seek to learn from everyone I meet, irrespective of their background. Every day I learn something from someone and it inspires me and encourages me to grow and invest in my network. I love knowing someone who can help!

In looking at my technical development, the late Professor Paul Younger of Newcastle University was my main inspiration. Paul moved to be the Engineering Chair at Glasgow University and I visited with him several times over the years before his death. The world lost a great man.

What piece of advice would you give to students and alumni, interested in tacking the Climate Emergency?

There is a need for people to join industry who understand the science and want to seek the future solutions. In tackling this as a profession it is important to have business acumen and understand how to make a solution become scalable.