AECOM Maritime Structures Engineer, Nerea Palacios, is winning prestigious awards and named One to Watch for her impressive work

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AECOM Maritime Structures Engineer Nerea wins awards

Nerea Palacios is a Maritime Structures Engineer based in the Basingstoke office at AECOM and has won the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) South Branch Emerging Engineers Award (1st stage of the overall competition) and the ICE South East England Emerging Engineers Award (2nd stage of the overall competition). There are 4 stages in total in this competition that encourages young engineers to research and write technical papers on state-of-the-art topics.

Nerea was also awarded as the One to Watch for Young Professionals accolade by the ICE South Branch.

AECOM Nerea awardImage courtesy of © Visual Eye

Nerea shares how she became a Maritime Structures Engineer at AECOM, what attracted her to the maritime industry, and what is was like winning the awards.

A very important careers event

Nerea holds an MEng in Civil Engineering from the University of Burgos in Spain, and an MSc in Engineering in the Coastal Environment from the University of Southampton in the UK. She is also a Graduate Member of the ICE.

While studying at the University of Southampton Nerea attended a careers event organised by the university. An AECOM Graduate Engineer attended the event and provided real insight into the day-to-day life of a graduate at AECOM. They also highlighted some of the exciting projects that they had contributed to.

“It was due to this event that I decided to apply for a role at AECOM,” explains Nerea who now attends careers events herself as a representative of AECOM and promotes careers in engineering to students.

Nerea AECOM career eventNerea attending a careers fair

A day in the life of a Maritime Structures Engineer at AECOM

Nerea is a Maritime Structures Engineer. She explains: “I design marinas, container terminals, jetties and pretty much any structure that is near water. Essentially my job consists in ensuring structures do not fall down!”

“I design mainly concrete structures, which can go from a quay wall to reinforced beams for heavy duty container cranes,” adds Nerea. “My daily job involves working with a lot of spreadsheets and technical codes and using design software such as Finite Element Analysis.”

Nerea is currently working on the stabilisation of the walls of a dry dock. She says: “This project is particularly interesting because the walls need to be earthquake-proof, so you need to understand how the structure works dynamically.”

Nerea AECOM engineer

No two days are the same

When asked what attracted her to the maritime industry, Nerea says: “I particularly enjoy the maritime industry because every day at work is different. Some days you are designing something completely new, whereas other days you might have to assess and upgrade an existing facility. I also enjoy getting to go on site.”

“The fact that our structures are near or in water adds an extra challenge since you are dealing with something 'live' and variable, sometimes even unpredictable,” she adds.

The award process

When asked what she had to do to enter the Emerging Engineers awards Nerea explains that: “firstly, I submitted an abstract of my technical paper called 'An analysis of flood risk and potential adaptations in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight'. The paper is based on the research work I carried out as part of my Master's dissertation at the University of Southampton.”

The jury shortlisted three abstracts that had to be further developed into full papers. “The three finalists had to present their papers in the ICE South Branch Emerging Engineers Final held in Winchester. The score was 50 per cent paper and 50 per cent presentation,” explains Nerea.

Nerea engineering award AECOM

“Since I won, my paper progressed to the next stage, the ICE South East England Emerging Engineers regional final held in London. I had to present my paper again in front of a new jury, and I was lucky enough to win again!”

Nerea’s paper will now be sent to a new panel of judges for consideration of selection ahead of the International Final which will take place at the ICE headquarters in London.

When asked about the One to Watch for Young Professionals award Nerea explains that she had to submit 500 words about how she has:

  • promoted civil engineering to the public, young people and other professionals
  • sought to develop and promote a culture of fairness and inclusion
  • demonstrated integrity and professionalism
  • used her enthusiasm to inspire and motivate others
  • developed innovative practices or ways of working that have had a tangible effect on the industry

“The award ceremony was on a cruise boat around the Solent where we could glimpse the ongoing works in Southampton Harbour and towards the Solent, including flood defences, coastal protection and dredging,” says Nerea.

Winning the award

When asked what it was like to win the awards, Nerea said: “Seeing your hard work recognised is always very rewarding, especially when the award comes from such a prestigious organisation as the Institution of Civil Engineers. I was amazed by the number of congratulations messages I received in the following days. I am looking forward to seeing how far my paper will make it.”

Final thoughts from Nerea

AECOM Nerea engineer career advice

When asked what the best piece of careers advice she has been given, Nerea comments: “Your daily job is only a part of your career. Use your spare time to learn new skills (not only technical), build your network and take control of your desired career path.”

“It is no longer enough to just have the technical skills – that is just the start," she adds. "Soft skills are more important than ever with companies looking for workers who excel in areas such as communication, problem solving, teamwork, and more. Well-rounded candidates with a combination of hard and soft skills will be the front runners for many positions.”

A great time to join AECOM

Join talented women like Nerea and find your next career opportunity with prime employer for women AECOM.


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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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