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Friday, Apr 07, 2023

Jessica Gagné shares her passion for creative design and mentorship

Engineering on site inspecting a bridge structure

For Jessica Gagné, her journey to becoming a Senior Bridge Engineer began early in life, influenced by her grandfather, a Mechanical Engineer. Growing up in the United Kingdom, Jessica witnessed the construction of notable civil infrastructure projects. As a child, she even asked her parents to visit the Channel Tunnel construction site visitor centre as a birthday treat! 

Jessica tells us, "I didn’t decide to focus on structural engineering until I was in university. The opportunity to be creative in design really appealed to me, and still does." One particular lecture at the Institution of Civil Engineers left a lasting impression on Jessica. "Robert Benaim (one of UK's greatest modern bridge engineers) sketched up a beautiful scheme for the North Greenwich underground station on the Jubilee Line Extension. I realized that was the kind of work I wanted to do." Later, Jessica began her career at the company Benaim founded, working in London and Bath.

While studying at Imperial College in London, Jessica participated in the ERASMUS exchange program sponsored by the European Union, and spent a year at École des Ponts in Paris. She shares, "Studying abroad was a wonderful experience and contributed to my decision to seek work opportunities in Canada."

In 2007, Jessica joined Associated Engineering, responding to a Consulting Engineers of Alberta recruitment drive conducted in the UK. She sought to gain broader experience and develop her career by working in Canada.

"I was particularly attracted by the atmosphere and projects undertaken by the structural group when I visited Associated's Edmonton office. I felt Associated would be a good fit. Originally, I intended to stay in Canada for only three years, but I have now been with Associated for more than fifteen years!"

Jessica feels very fortunate to have had amazing mentors at every stage of her career. She is very thankful to them, not only for their generosity in sharing technical knowledge, but also for their encouragement to persevere through setbacks. She explains, "Mentors help in charting the course to the 'next step'. I advise young engineers to find a mentor who has the job that they would like to have in five to ten years."

A group of women at an event

"I advise recent graduates to take the opportunity to travel that consulting engineering offers, to work with different people, and to spend extended periods on-site, if possible." She feels that gaining broad experience with different ways of approaching a project in the early years of one's career helps to build a deep toolbox of solutions for the different project challenges ahead.  

Jessica adds, "I also advise graduates specializing in structural engineering to consider taking the IStructE exam. While it is not the only way to build up skills in conceptual design and solution generation, I found, through taking the exam, I built up a library of resources, as well as skills that I use regularly on projects."

A pedestrian bridge in winter

Since joining Associated, Jessica describes her most memorable experiences include visiting the Bitumount Fire Base and flying in a helicopter over the path of the Richardson Wildfire to inspect bridges that had been damaged by the fire; as well as inspecting the International Control Dam above Niagara Falls. She tells us her project highlights have been working on the Fifth Bridge, a pedestrian bridge in scenic Jasper National Park and the Edmonton Capital Line South Extension.

Jessica describes mutual respect and having open and honest communication as key elements of her approach to fostering strong relationships with colleagues and clients.

"One of the benefits I've found from working at Associated is the very low staff turnover, which enables long-term relationships with colleagues, working on long duration projects, and earning repeat clients."

Outside of work, Jessica enjoys being in the outdoors, hiking in the mountains and camping with her family. She describes herself as a busy 'violin parent' taking her son to lessons, orchestra rehearsals, and concerts. Jessica also just concluded a three-year term as a Beaver Scout leader. 

A family on a hike in the mountains

Jessica also volunteers as a guest lecturer at the University of Alberta, teaching steel girder bridge design as part of the fourth-year capstone course, and sharing her passion for creative design. She was recently appointed as an Adjunct Professor, and plans to expand the 'bridge content' available in the Masters program, fostering the next generation of bridge engineers.