Interview With Shannon Brattebo, Environmental Engineer

Interview With Shannon Brattebo, Environmental Engineer

Understanding the importance of mentors and teamwork to create successful engineers

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What is the greatest advice you could pass onto female students who aspire to have a career in engineering? Shannon Brattebo shares, "Don’t be afraid to ask questions." http://bit.ly/2TmaVW7 #LeadingWithScience #WomenInSTEM
Monday, August 19, 2019 - 8:00am

Shannon Brattebo has worked at Tetra Tech since 1999 as an environmental engineer specializing in lake and reservoir restoration and management, water quality monitoring, modeling, and assessment. Shannon holds a Bachelors in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Seattle University and a Masters in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Washington. Among many accomplishments, Shannon and her team were nominated for the Best Paper of the Year Award by the Lake and Reservoir Management journal for the Lake Ketchum Restoration project in Western Washington. We spoke with Shannon as part of our #INWED19 campaign to not only celebrate our brilliant women engineers but also to raise their profiles and encourage those who aspire to become engineers and work in STEM. Follow #WomeninSTEM on social media for more stories.


What do you like about working at Tetra Tech?

The people! I have had the privilege of working with some of the most amazing, passionate, brilliant, and fun-loving people during my time at Tetra Tech. I began my professional career here as an intern while I was an undergraduate student in Seattle, Washington. I was the only female in our small office for several months, but I never felt like I did not belong. The engineers, scientists, and planners I first worked with at Tetra Tech helped shape the person and engineer I am today. I can honestly say that I learned more, both technically and professionally, while working here than I ever did during my undergraduate and graduate schooling, and I think that is mostly due to the people. The influence my Tetra Tech mentors and co-workers have had on my life is profound, and I am truly grateful to have worked with such amazing people. The people I have worked with and continue to work with are the main reasons why I have spent my entire professional career at Tetra Tech.

What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?

My dad, initially. I knew that I wanted to be an engineer like my dad, and I was always interested in water and water quality. My 8th grade science teacher encouraged me to do a science fair project looking at how the effluent of a local wastewater treatment plant impacted water quality in the receiving river. After that I was hooked. When I first met with my undergraduate advisor, Dr. Jean Jacoby, I told her I wanted to be an engineer with a focus on water and water quality and not as much on civil design and concrete. She guided me into limnology and environmental engineering and eventually to Tetra Tech. She had previously worked at Tetra Tech and knew that the office in Seattle was in search of an intern. Twenty years later and I am still here.

What is the greatest advice you could pass onto female students who aspire to have a career in engineering?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions; it is okay not to know the answer to everything. No one expects you to know everything, especially if you are just starting out in your career. Do not be silent—speak up if you don’t understand a topic or how someone reached a conclusion or calculation. I have found that the best way to learn is to ask for an explanation, which usually results in a discussion and leads to new solutions or brainstorming of ideas. By asking questions, you may realize there is a better way to do something.

What are the greatest qualities you may find in an engineer?

I believe that all good engineers, regardless of gender, possess the following qualities:

  • The ability to adapt and problem solve on their feet—this is a skill that I am still developing 
  • The ability to be flexible in all situations
  • Being an effective communicator and the ability to work well with others and as part of a team
  • Being a good listener
  • Knowing when you need help or when you don’t know the answer to a question or problem, and knowing where to find the answer, whether from a book or from another person

What projects are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my work on the Boundary Dam Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Relicensing project on the Pend Oreille River in Northeast Washington; the Susitna River Baseline Water Quality, Temperature, and Mercury Assessment and Bioaccumulation studies as part of the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric FERC Licensing project in Alaska; and the Lake Ketchum Restoration project in West Washington. All three of these projects challenged me technically and contributed greatly to my growth as a professional, as an engineer, and as a person.

I am very proud of the defensible and sound data that we produced for the Boundary Dam and Susitna River projects. We conducted water quality monitoring in very remote areas on very large river systems. The associated challenges on both projects were huge and difficult to overcome. The field teams for both projects were very large, but we formed great relationships between both engineers and scientists and produced solid work.

For the Lake Ketchum Restoration project, I developed models to help evaluate different lake restoration strategies that would meet Snohomish County’s goals for the lake. From this evaluation, we designed a management program for the lake that included a large alum treatment to reduce internal loading of phosphorus as well as maintenance alum treatments to control continued external loading. We eliminated the internal loading, and the lake reopened to the public for contact after having been closed for several years due to toxic algae blooms. This was by far the most successful restoration project I have been a part of. We published a paper documenting our modeling and analysis and the treatment and results. The paper was nominated for the Best Paper of the Year Award in the Lake and Reservoir Management journal. I am very proud of that nomination from my peers.