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Emma Hellawell

Emma Hellawell

Principal engineer and consultant, LEAP Environmental


Environmental Management, Geotechnical, Digital


United Kingdom
My highlights

Making the WES Top 50 Women in Engineering 2024 list

Finalist for the 2023 Returner of the Year Engineering Talent Awards

Awarded Highly Commended in the 2022 Brownfield Briefing

A day in my life

My days are office based – generally either developing new carbon tools, applying existing tools to projects, or working as a geoenvironmental consultant on projects.

I would recommend a career in civil engineering because it’s varied, relevant and central to sorting out climate change.

Which individual project or person inspired you to become a civil engineer?

My undergraduate project supervisor at Cambridge University showed me a whole new area of civil engineering – namely geoenvironmental engineering.

This project playing with soil and a nuclear pollutant provided a pathway into a career focused on environmental issues in civil engineering.

We asked Emma…

Complete this phrase: I’m a civil engineer, but I’m also…

A mother, educator, STEM ambassador, tennis player, football fan, and ongoing learner.

What’s the biggest/most complex thing you’ve made out of Lego? How long did it take you?

A dwarf mine! Spent Boxing Day with my son building it – then he dropped it when moving it to show someone! It never came out again.

What about being a civil engineer gets you out of bed each morning?

Solving the next problem, using my brain effectively and doing relevant work for society.

What’s one great thing that you love about civil engineering that you didn’t know until you started working in the industry?

The variety of opportunities!

Which civil engineering project (past or present) do you wish you’d worked on?

Developing the London sewage network and solving the environmental problem of that era.

Name one civil engineering myth you’d like to bust.

Not all civil engineering harms the environment!

What are you doing to help address climate change?

Developing tools, like the carbon reduction design tools (CReDiT), to evaluate and reduce the carbon in ground engineering projects.

How has your work as an engineer enhanced the lives of people?

I’m a STEM ambassador and ICE mentor.

I promote engineering and science from primary reception to graduates.

This has included developing projects for primary schools and sixth form, mentoring graduate engineers and giving school assemblies.

Last month I built sandcastles with reception class pupils aged five!

Recognising the importance of maths, I volunteered as a GCSE tutor for a school and the post-Covid national tutoring programme.

The whole aim of this work is to promote engineering and science and show the wide range of work available in a civil engineering career.

I’ve also joined discussions and workshops discussing equality issues in civil engineering.

This has included being open about the issues I faced in my career, particularly relating to part-time working and difficulties returning to the profession after a career break.

Has civil engineering helped you overcome any personal hurdles/difficulties?

It actually created difficulties when I was juggling parenting with an academic career – there was no support for a part-time career path or any possible career progression at that time.

Returning to the profession after a career break was even more difficult.

What motivated you to become professionally qualified? 

As a contaminated land officer, I was recommending that developers used ‘suitably qualified people’ to carry out their site investigation and remediation work. But I didn’t meet the requirement!

So 25 years after my degree, I finally applied for membership in 2018.

What does being professionally qualified with the ICE mean for your career?

Professional recognition of my achievements was actually very rewarding personally.

What’s the best thing about being professionally qualified with the ICE? 

I now call myself a civil engineer – whereas before I wasn’t sure where I fitted.

What do you value most about being an ICE member? 

Being professionally qualified.

Any personal causes?

Women aren’t useless after having children – in fact they have developed a whole new set of skills.

Therefore, there’s a need to recognise this and provide more opportunities for people returning after a career break.

Employers need to address this and help by providing flexible and rewarding career opportunities for this valuable and underused resource.

Emma's career path

My education started with an engineering degree at Cambridge, where I thought I would be an electronic engineer.

I found I preferred subjects relating to civil engineering as I couldn’t visualise electrons.

I enjoyed my project on the migration of pollutants in soil and so ended up doing a PhD in this, which included large scale geotechnical centrifuge tests.

I then thought I ought to get practical experience so worked as a consultant at Atkins, before returning to academia as a lecturer in civil engineering at the University of Surrey.

The challenge of juggling two children, one with special needs, with an academic career led to a career break. Returning to engineering proved difficult.

I became a contaminated land regulator in local government, which included project managing a major remediation scheme.

I then obtained a Daphne Jackson Fellowship (an amazing scheme for returning academics) investigating brownfield site asbestos. This led to further research projects including developing carbon reduction tools.

A lack of research funding and a chance to apply these tools in real world projects led to a return to consultancy with LEAP Environmental to develop carbon reduction tools in a commercial environment.

Major projects

  • Site investigation for Millennium site, Greenwich (The O2) 
  • Part IIA remediation of residential properties in Epsom and Ewell
  • Daphne Jackson Fellowship - analysis of asbestos and benzo-a-pyrene levels in UK urban soil from local authority data
  • NERC funded project - Carbon Reduction Digital Twin (CReDiT) for brownfield remediation