Colette Gaona, a 2008 graduate in chemical engineering, was honored at the 2018 Oregon Stater Awards, held Feb. 22 in Portland, where she joined the Council of Early Career Engineers.
Knowing the actual chemistry behind environmental contamination issues is what sets Gaona apart from her colleagues. She is one of just three chemical engineering professionals on Landau Associates’ staff of 92 employees.
“I often get calls when a more technical explanation is needed concerning chemical contaminants,” she said.
In her 9 1/2-year career with Landau Associates, Gaona has conducted a number of field studies that include finding and tracing the pathways of pollutants, evaluating analytical data, preparing technical reports, and developing cleanup recommendations for aerospace, industrial, and public sector facilities.
“I enjoy playing the role of detective in helping our clients solve problems,” she said.
Gaona is now taking it to the next level. Landau Associates is an employee-owned company, and she ran for a seat on the firm’s board of directors in 2016. Now in her second year on the board, she serves as corporate secretary.
“It’s been a great opportunity to learn about the company and the business of my profession from a different perspective,” she said.
Gaona also has stepped into a leadership role in the firm’s Portland office, overseeing larger projects and staff. And she’s accomplished all this while embarking on parenthood — her second child is due in April.
“It’s worked out well,” she said, “I’m learning how to balance and excel in new areas while becoming a mom.”
For students entering the profession, especially women, she offers this advice:
“You don’t have to take the traditional route, but women must have passion if they want to advance in this industry. Excellent mentors and internships provided by the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering prepared me for real-life work. If you don’t take internships, it’s tough to get your foot in the door. Wisdom, education, tenacity, and a little experience help you get noticed.”