Meet Nathalie McCutcheon, P.Eng. - TYLin Vice President, Water Sector Manager - Canada
Based in the Greater Toronto Area in Ontario, Canada, Nathalie has 26 years of experience in municipal and environmental design, including 11 years with The Municipal Infrastructure Group Ltd. (TMIG), now conducting business as TYLin.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
My father was a metallurgical engineer who then became a dentist. I loved math and physics, and he always thought I was very practical and could visualize things in 3D. He gave me my Iron Ring, which was a very special moment. The Iron Ring is a ring worn by many Canadian-trained engineers as a symbol and reminder of the obligations and ethics associated with their profession. The ring is presented to engineering graduates in a private ceremony known as the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer. Unfortunately, my dad passed away when I was only 23, so he did not see my career blossom. But I know he would have been proud of my achievements.
What's one thing the engineering industry can do to encourage more women into its ranks?
Fostering a love for math and science must start at an early age. The challenge for primary school teachers is that children learn in very different ways. Not all teachers feel comfortable or love teaching these subjects, depending on their educational background. Providing teachers with the necessary education and tools is essential. The engineering industry could be that tool to help primary school teachers.
While in University, I led two-hour science and engineering activities in primary schools in May and June that were fun and educational. The children built a mousetrap car, and we made the lid of a paint can blow off in the schoolyard. Sessions like this foster excitement for math and science.
What technical skills have helped you advance in your career?
I have been fortunate to have been exposed to many areas of engineering, from private development (subdivision and site plans) and transportation to water and wastewater. As a result of this varied experience, I view civil engineering from many different vantage points. This has helped me in advocating and successfully acquiring ongoing contracts for the TYLin family.
My time in the public sector also provided me with relevant experience working with the public and local government (councilors). As a result, I have a thorough understanding of how municipalities address and respond to inquiries from the public, local residents, and councilors, and I understand the fiscal responsibility to provide quality services to communities.
What personal traits or characteristics have helped you succeed in this position?
I am a great communicator and able to liaise effectively with my team, clients, and colleagues
I am very approachable and diplomatic, which has helped me as a people manager.
Good problem-solving skills matter. Many engineers possess this skill, but I have developed a definite skill for identifying the right people to come together to solve a problem.
Mentoring junior staff to think outside the box and passing on the practical knowledge I have attained is something I truly enjoy.
I love managing projects and people and am determined to deliver a finished product that is superior to the competition. It is this “drive to deliver” that continues to motivate me and my staff. The dedication and passion that I feel towards engineering is also felt by my team, and demonstrated in the quality of the products we deliver for our clients.
Who have been mentors and advisors in your career?
I am grateful to have had several mentors and close colleagues who have helped me along the way.
All of my colleagues at this firm have been indispensable in helping to achieve our combined success with the projects we have been awarded. I have a strong network of colleagues that I can call on for advice or to simply discuss ideas.
What are two of the most memorable projects you have worked on?
My first big project was in the United States for the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Truck Marshalling Yard in Louisiana. The project included retaining walls, concrete pavers, servicing, and a small building. I was part of the design team and also performed site inspections.
Looking back, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but I was fortunate enough to work with some great engineers and a great contractor. I designed stormwater and sanitary sewers, graded the site, and coordinated with other disciplines (mechanical, electrical, and structural engineering).
The most valuable experience was my time onsite: seeing how the infrastructure was constructed, dealing with issues such as unknown utilities, redesigning onsite, and negotiating with the contractor. When I returned to Canada, the contractor provided me with a letter of recommendation that helped me secure an engineering position in Canada.
The second project was in Canada. I was the Project Manager for the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Greenwood Bypass to determine the need for the proposed realignment of Westney Road around the Hamlet of Greenwood and the connection to the future Highway 407 interchange. I was the main point of contact for the Greenwood Bypass EA. The residents in this area initially voiced strong opposition to this project, as they preferred that the bypass not infringe on their properties (referred to as NIMBY or Not In My Backyard).
In response to this, I developed an extensive consultation for this EA, which included regular meetings with the Greenwood Ratepayers Association, three Public Information Centres (PICs), and several one-on-one meetings with residents, ands well as newsletter updates to advise residents of the progress made on the project. In the end, I was able to garner support from the opposition, who learned and agreed that the recommended bypass route was the best solution for their community.
What advice would you give to young engineers who are interested in a position such as yours?
Be patient. It takes time to develop your engineering and management skills.
Volunteer and be open to new challenges.
If possible, work with different managers so that you can be exposed to different management styles, which will help you develop your own management style.
Don’t be afraid to ask for new opportunities and new challenges.