Employee Spotlight: Alanna Olear, environmental engineer

E & E has some impressive employees in our ranks. From bat researchers to PhD holders to marine mammal specialists, our staff holds a wealth of knowledge and expertise. The Employee Spotlight series highlights the talented people who work here. Each month, we’ll be featuring an interview with a different employee here on The Stream.

For our first installation, we spoke with Alanna Olear, an environmental engineer in her second year with E & E. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., she graduated from the University of Buffalo in 2015 and worked as a water engineer in American Samoa before coming to E & E. Outside of work, working with animals is one of her biggest passions, having rescued an abandoned puppy while living in American Samoa. She also spends time volunteering with Coconut Mutts, an animal focused non-profit. Read on for her story.

employee spotlight
E & E environmental engineer Alanna Olear on the job.

What’s an average day like for you at E & E?

It’s different every day! During the field season, I could be doing anything from water sampling to construction oversight. Mainly, I work at a site in Geneva, N.Y. doing construction oversight. I also work on shoreline restoration projects, designing solutions to repair areas that have eroded. My field work is mainly in western New York state.

Any big projects that you’ve worked on recently?

The Geneva project I mentioned. For that one, it’s working on residential properties to remediate the contamination in the soil from Geneva Foundry. I’ve worked on the design of the properties as well as some construction oversight. It has been interesting work with a lot of moving parts. It has been a valuable experience collaborating with homeowners of the residential properties we work on and other contractors on the project that make it all come together. I have learned a lot from my experienced coworkers at E&E that are on this project.

What do you like most about working at E & E?

You’re not really stuck just doing one thing. You could be doing something one day, like worm sampling – which is something that I never thought I would do! – and then the next day I could be working on digging up some contaminated soil. I like that there are so many knowledgeable people to work with who are specialized in different aspects of the projects we work together to accomplish.

Can you tell me about your time working in American Samoa? Describe an average day.

I was a water engineer and worked on the asset management of the water systems there. My main project while I was there was hydraulic modeling of American Samoa’s water distribution systems. They have a lot of leaks in their water distribution systems, so that’s something that they’re constantly trying to fix. My work would vary from day to day. Sometimes I would be in the office working on a hydraulic model, but then other days I would be working with the non-revenue water crew and go out with them to map different things using a GPS, or just adjust things in the water system with them to make sure everything was running smoothly.

What sparked your passion to volunteer to help animals?

While I was in American Samoa, there was a cyclone called Cyclone Tuni, and my friends and I went out to this sheltered area of a cliff where we could watch the 20 foot swells of the ocean from the aftermath of the cyclone. We were probably standing there for two hours or so before my friend noticed that there was a puppy hiding in the bushes. I tried to call to him, but he was so emaciated that he couldn’t move or make any noise. So, I went over and picked him up and he was such a sad sight. My friend and I took him to the vet, and he got a lot better after maybe a month or two of us taking care of him. I named him Tuni after the cyclone and brought him back home to New York with me when I finished my contract in American Samoa.

employee spotlight
The day that Alanna found her dog, Tuni, during a cyclone in American Samoa.

What does your role as a board member for Coconut Mutts entail?

As a board member, I meet with the other board members and we try to figure out what we’d like to raise money for the American Samoa Veterinary Clinic. There’s only one clinic on the main island, and that clinic supports all of the other islands of American Samoa. So, we work together to figure out if there’s a special case or animal that we can support, or if we want to plan a special clinic to go out to one of the more remote islands with a vet and to hold spay and neuter clinics.

“I’ve always had a very strong interest in animals, but now that I’m working at E & E, I do see a lot of overlap with environmental engineering and animals. I think that when I was in [American] Samoa, it made me realize that there’s so many different elements that go into taking care of animals just from a community standpoint, but also an environmental standpoint, too.”

Alanna Olear
Alanna collecting animals for a Coconut Mutts Remote Island Clinic in Ofu, American Samoa.

You have some experience with Engineers Without Borders, right?

The Buffalo Professionals Chapter is the chapter that I’m a part of as a board member. We actually just created our chapter last year, so a lot of [my work] has been planning and trying to get us off the ground running. We work with the University of Buffalo Chapter, to give mentorship and help them fundraise for their current project in Nicaragua. Engineers Without Borders has a portal of projects that need support and what chapters are able to do is look through these projects and evaluate if our skill set matches their needs. We’re going through the process of reviewing a few of these communities to see if we’d be able to support them.

What community involvement have you had in the Buffalo area?

I was involved with the Solar Decathlon, which is a competition in California. Our university built a completely solar-powered house. You have to transport it to California, rebuild it there, compete with it and then bring it back to Buffalo. It’s actually back in Buffalo now, and it’s going to be used as a learning tool for the community. We ended up getting second place. I also support Buffalo Waterkeeper and the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME). With SAME, we did a volunteer day at the Buffalo Museum of Science this past year with the Girl Scouts, on Engineering Day. We had different set ups where we went through topics with the Girl Scouts and they went around to each table to see what type of engineering options are out there, and if they would like it. For our table, we made a set up where they could see how shorelines erode.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I travel a lot just for fun to check out different areas. I’m about to go backpacking in Wyoming with my friends, because I’ve never been over there and I’d love to see the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.

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