Americas, Canada, Transportation, Water, Women in Engineering

Planning, designing and building major tunnels and below-grade structures requires a high degree of technical expertise. With more than 2,000 miles of transit, roadway, water and energy tunnel projects worldwide, AECOM is at the forefront of this critical practice.

A part of our team of over 500 tunneling professionals, our female leaders bring a unique perspective to this traditionally male field, from their upbringings around the world to their technical training and vast project experience. We sat down with the women who are helping to shape the future of the industry to discuss their inspirations, favorite projects and what they think is next for women in this profession.

Nooshin Falaknaz, P.Eng. Senior Tunnel Engineer, Canada

Nooshin specializes in Rock Mechanics- Geotechnics

What inspired you to join the tunneling industry? This job brings various challenges, particularly when it comes to working with difficult ground conditions and geological situations. The gratification of overcoming obstacles during field investigations, underground design and field works is my greatest motivator.

What is your favorite AECOM project and why? I recently became involved in the Metro Blue Line Extension in Montreal. Of the projects I have designed, my favorite is the Blue Line Metro because it allowed me to draw on my past experiences and play a hands-on role from start to finish on various design elements and technical challenges.

How are you helping to advance women in the tunneling industry? As a young woman in the tunneling industry it has been common for me to be the only female on a project. As a result, I always encourage female students and younger colleagues with backgrounds in geotechnics and rock mechanics to consider a career in tunneling. I share my positive career experience, and I offer to mentor them and provide technical support to help them succeed in their project work and advance their careers in tunneling.

What do you see as the next major advancements in the tunneling industry? I believe we can expect a range of projects from expansion of existing underground transit systems to entirely new tunnel construction. Deep rock tunnels are being considered to enable rapid transportation between cities and urban highway tunnels may offer a convenient opportunity to reduce pollution. Advances in tunneling engineering and technology will be crucial to delivering economically constructed, functional and sustainable environments. I believe we will use more new and innovative technologies for site characterization, design and analysis of underground excavation, tunnel excavation methods, and during field works to minimize risks and expedite project completion.

Theodora (Dorina) Vovou, Tunnel Engineer, US East

Dorina specializes in Tunnels and underground structures design and management

What inspired you to join the tunneling industry? Growing up in Greece, a country with significant mineral wealth and a historical background of tunneling, I found the tunneling industry an appealing challenge for engineers. I was motivated to pursue a career in tunneling while I was a student, after seeing the construction of Greece’s first subway system and the challenges that went along with it.

What is your favorite AECOM project and why? My favorite AECOM project is the Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM) project in Montréal, Canada. I have been part of the project team from its conceptual design – which began about 4 years ago – to its design and ongoing construction. As part of the team, I have paid attention to every detail as the project developed and seeing it progress has reinforced my dedication to its completion.

How are you helping to advance women in the tunneling industry? I am a member of Women in Tunneling, a group affiliated with the Underground Construction Association (UCA) of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME). As part of our efforts to advance women in the industry, we organize virtual and in-person networking sessions while also discussing and developing measures to encourage more women to become involved in the field and promoting women engineering students to pursue their careers in tunneling and underground construction.

What do you see as the next major advancements in the tunneling industry? I think we will be seeing more underground space used for recreation, in the form of underground streets, pedestrian tunnels and shopping malls. I also believe there will be an uptick in subway systems around the world and an expansion of existing subway systems resulting from increased transportation demand in urban areas.

Kiranmayee (Kiran) Akunuri, P.E., PMP Tunnel Engineer and Project Manager, US West

Kiran specializes in geotechnical engineering for tunneling and project management

What inspired you to join the tunneling industry? I have been fascinated by underground structures since childhood, possibly because of all my excursions to historical places with underground structures and caves in India, where I grew up.  Over the years, this interest drove me to learn more about them and ultimately, to pursue a career in underground structures.

What is your favorite AECOM project and why? My favorite is the Delhi Metro Rail Program where AECOM was a design consultant for over six packages and projects. This was my first tunneling project in which I had an opportunity to be part of the segmental lining design of twin tunnels for Earth Pressure Balance Shields – Tunnel Boring Machine (EPB-TBM) tunneling. I was also able to make several site visits during the construction of the tunnel and underground stations to observe firsthand the implementation of my design. This project has been acclaimed for its international recognition.

How are you helping to advance women in the tunneling industry? As a member of the Society for Women Engineers (SWE) and Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), I motivate and encourage more women to join the tunneling industry by sharing my experiences and challenges and making them aware of the opportunities and recognition this industry could bring to women engineers and professionals who are driven and passionate about the industry.

What do you see as the next major advancements in the tunneling industry? Underground high-speed rail systems and the Hyperloop will change the transportation industry globally. We have to be ready for this transformation.

Amanda Foote, P.E., Tunnel Project Engineer, US West

Amanda specializes in Wastewater Conveyance Tunnels

What inspired you to join the tunneling industry? I was introduced to the tunneling profession through a project manager who was responsible for leading a tunneling project in Akron, Ohio, when I was only a few years out of college. My experience on the project team for the Akron tunneling project, along with the mentorship of my project manager, led me to fall in love with the tunneling industry and the various aspects of a tunnel design and construction. After the Akron project, the same project manager brought me into work on other tunneling projects to continue to expand my experience.

What is your favorite AECOM project and why? My current project with the Michigan Department of Transportation Interstate I-75 Segment 3 Design Build job is my favorite. I am the project engineer on the 14’ diameter drainage tunnel for the project. As my first design build job, I’m enjoying the collaborative relationship with the contractor where we can share ideas and tunneling experience firsthand.

How are you helping to advance women in the tunneling industry? As a woman in a male dominated industry, it is not uncommon for me to be the only female in the room for project meetings. I have worked to identify other young women that may have an interest in tunneling to join the industry and helping to bring them onto projects when opportunities are available.

What do you see as the next major advancements in the tunneling industry? I see the tunneling industry advancing into more underground high-speed rail systems to connect larger cities.  As metropolitan areas continue to grow, I also expect that extensions to already constructed wastewater and stormwater tunnels will be needed to handle increased flow demands and reduce the impact on the environment.


Originally published May 12, 2021

Author: AECOM Editors