Environment, People Spotlight, Sustainable Legacies, Water

Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts around the world. This week, we are highlighting a senior manager and resilience leader from our Water business line in the U.S. East region and providing an insight into their inspiration and work.

Mike manages regional- and district-level resilience programs. His work involves applying data and information analysis, with the goal of developing innovative solutions for addressing scenario-based risk, building community resilience equity, enhancing infrastructure resilience across industry, and developing strategy for climate resilience.

He leads environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy for metro areas in the U.S. East region, incorporating climate and community resilience principles into projects and programs, in line with our Sustainable Legacies strategy. He has recently taken on an added role to lead and coordinate tracking of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) funding and the resulting opportunities with the regional business line leaders and state leaders for the region.

Mike holds a Master of Science in Environmental and Water Resource Engineering from George Mason University, and a Bachelor of Science in Geographic Science from James Madison University. He recently received his Public Leadership Credential from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Tell us about what inspired you to join the industry

I always knew I would work around water and the natural environment. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the water—surfing, swimming and kayaking. I was also fascinated with tracking weather patterns and coastal conditions. In college, I was introduced to geospatial information systems (GIS) and became interested in how spatial information could be used to address issues around changes to our environment. At AECOM, I’ve been able to work on both federal and municipal projects and programs and build on my interest in how we interact with water as a society.

What is your favorite AECOM project that you’ve worked on and why?

The projects that help communities address environmental or social issues are the ones I enjoy the most. One recent project in Boston, Resilient Moakley Park, involved green engineering to protect a disadvantaged/environmental justice community from flooding. Our cost-benefit analysis helped the city secure funding for the project by accounting for the avoidance of flood damage to buildings, traffic delays, detours and loss of recreational use.

The green infrastructure design incorporated an earthen berm, improved stormwater management practices and coastal protection strategies such as stormwater meadows, corridors and tree trenches while aligning with the Justice40 initiative rolled out by the federal government in 2021. It will be satisfying to see this project come to fruition, as the area provides housing and recreation for a part of the city that includes public housing.

I also recently supported our Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Assistance group, which gets grant dollars to communities for mitigation projects. Closely related was the work I did on the National Risk Index (NRI), a geospatial platform that evaluates multiple hazards against socioeconomic and built environment factors to produce a community-level baseline relative risk measurement for communities nationwide. It’s amazing to work with communities to secure funding for multi-million-dollar infrastructure projects that will leave lasting, positive impacts.

Tell us a story of how your work positively impacted the community.

The disaster recovery work AECOM performs has shown me the importance of building more resilient communities and enhancing our community lifelines to protect the most vulnerable populations. Being on the ground after the damage caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, I saw firsthand the important work we do in helping communities and people bounce back from disasters. We had conversations with residents that were affected by the storms and worked with them to get the resources they needed in the weeks and months afterwards. It also provided an opportunity to help support new national policy around community resilience through the development of new grant programs, with a focus on nature-based solutions and socially vulnerable populations.

Share a piece of career advice

Don’t be afraid to volunteer for new projects that might be out of your comfort zone. I’ve had the opportunity to work on extremely technical and engineering-heavy projects as well as projects more focused on community engagement and strategic support. They each helped me to develop different skillsets. You never know where a project might lead and the skills you’ll pick up along the way.

A lot of my most enjoyable projects started out as putting my name forward for an opportunity, and they evolved into leading projects and teams on new pursuits and expanded scopes. Try to work across business lines when given the opportunity—a whole community and cross-business line approach will help many of today’s projects.

Originally published Sep 21, 2022

Author: Mike Onufrychuk