Student Experience: Emma O'Leary

EMMA O’LEARY (BCE 2018) is a graduate student. She will be completing her Master’s of Science degree in May 2020. Having a father who is an environmental engineer, she was always aware of that as a career possibility.


Environmental Engineering

“the need is everywhere”

“Clean water is a need everywhere—places like Haiti, but also the Appalachians, and Flint, Michigan. I have family near Flint. Clean water supply is becoming less available as the population grows.”


O’Leary started doing research with Prof. Tim LaPara her first year at UMN. That project developed into her Master’s thesis. She is investigating a hypothesis that bacteria that survive disinfection might be more likely to survive antibiotics, too. So far, she has not found that to be the case— very good news for us!


This term O’Leary has an internship at Geosyntec. “The company keeps me involved in a lot of projects. I have done a lot of industrial wastewater calculations. I have also worked on federally mandated Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessments. I like the variety and getting to practice and expand what I learned in my classes. It is nice that they ask what interests me.”

UPDATE: O’Leary accepted a job with Geosyntech following graduation.

Passion for People

O’Leary is driven to help people. “I do not like the lack of control that comes naturally with life. I think, for me, helping people is a way to gain back some control. Growing up we were taught to treat everyone respectfully and part of that was to help when you can. I’ve always felt that helping someone else is helping yourself, too. I like to see the effects, how what I do benefits people.”


“My dream job would be to work for a company that is really committed to building clean water infrastructure. That is the ultimate goal, helping people. My brain is oriented such that I can do this work, and so I think I should.”

“I have been devoted to my work, especially my thesis. Going to school has been worth it; now I am ready to move on. I am very excited to start applying things I’ve learned.”