Maureen Kotlas

Current Position: Director of Environmental Health and Safety at University of Missouri
Maureen Kotlas
Highlight I would say follow your heart. If you are interested in engineering, learn more about it, read about it, take courses, talk to engineers.
December 29, 2011Her job: Director of Environmental Health and Safety, University of Missouri
Describe what you do in your current work situation? I try to keep people safe who work, study, or live at our university. I also help protect the environment by making sure we don't pollute the air or water. The university is very large with about 35,000 students and thousands of professors and staff members so I can't do this alone. I lead a department of about 40 people who have specific focuses in safety and environmental engineering.
Why did you choose engineering? My first job was as a trainer. I taught faculty, staff, and students about safety issues. I wanted to know more about designing controls to prevent injuries so I began to study safety engineering.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have? I guess you could say that I followed a non-traditional path in my safety engineering education. I have a Bachelors degree in English education and a Masters degree also with a concentration in education from the State University of New York. Later, I studied environmental and occupational health and safety. A few years ago, I completed a graduate certificate in Homeland Security Management from the University of Maryland University College.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work? I've always been involved in training and teaching. I also spend quite a bit of time in various places at the university to observe how people work and look for possible safety problems. I spend quite a bit of time in research laboratories since they tend to have lots of chemicals and other possible hazards. I guess you could say that I have been in just about every possible place you can imagine on a college campus including the power plant, on roofs of buildings, in underground tunnels, even in a room under the bottom of the swimming pool!
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of? Last year, I was honored to have served as the President of the Campus Safety, Health and Environmental Management Association. It's a national organization of campus environmental health and safety professionals. I am also very proud to have been selected as one of 100 Women Making a Difference in Safety by the Women in Safety Engineering group of the American Society of Safety Engineers.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career? Since I do not have a degree in science, I have had to learn about chemistry and microbiology, which is very important to my work, in the years since I graduated. I read just about every day to strengthen my knowledge. I absolutely love the fact that I learn something new everyday!
Please tell us a little about your family. I am married and have three children. My oldest son is 25, my other son is 24, and I have a daughter who is 21 and will graduate from college in May 2012.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering? I would say follow your heart. If you are interested in engineering, learn more about it, read about it, take courses, talk to engineers. I have found it to be wonderfully rewarding and would not trade it for any other profession.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book. I love to run. I'm not the fastest person but I have competed in several half marathons and many 5K and 10K races. I also like to ski and am learning to be an awesome photographer.