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Q&A: Talking with Mary Magleby, Waste Management Project Manager

Jacobs’ UCOR Waste Project Management and Services Manager, Mary Magleby talks career, her STEAM heroes and her explosive most interesting career moment.

From next generation systems for a climate-resilient future to managing complex decommissioning, site closure, radioactive waste and remediation efforts, Jacobs is helping solve the world’s most complex nuclear challenges safely and effectively.

One such project is the East Tennessee Technology Park, formerly the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant, where UCOR, an Amentum-led partnership with Jacobs, is the lead environmental management contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy. Formed in 2011, UCOR’s 1,800 employees specialize in the safe decommissioning and demolition of former nuclear facilities.

In honor of International Women in Engineering Day, we’re connecting virtually with our team of engineering heroes around the world to showcase their careers and how each of them help Jacobs to live up to our promise of Challenging today. Reinventing tomorrow.

For this feature, we talked with the UCOR Waste Project Management and Services Manager Mary Magleby about career, the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) heroes who inspire her and her explosive most interesting career moment.

Tell us a bit about what you're working on these days.

I’ve had a varied carrier with many interesting projects. I worked for 28 years at the Idaho National Laboratory, and then moved to the Oak Ridge Reservation when Jacobs was part of the winning team.

Today, I’m the Waste Project Management and Services Manager for UCOR, and I have some interesting projects that keep me hopping. I manage the UCOR Transuranic (TRU) Waste Project, ensuring that we store and transport TRU waste safely. We even store TRU waste for other prime contractors at the Oak Ridge Reservation.

My other major role is the deputy manager and cost account manager for the new radioactive waste disposal facility that we’re building here in Oak Ridge. With the large amount of demolition that UCOR has been able to complete, and more in progress and on the horizon, the current facility is filling up. To safely and cost effectively continue our clean-up, a new disposal facility is needed. The effort requires us to work collaboratively with many stakeholders to obtain approvals.  

What’s your favorite part of your role?

Solving problems. Whether the problems are technical, scheduling, financial or communications – getting a solution to allow the project to proceed is very satisfying.

We’re publishing this article in honor of International Women in Engineering Day and this year’s theme is Engineering Heroes. Who are some of the heroes who inspired you to pursue a career in STEAM?

I come from a long line of engineers, and my father was the Chief Engineer for the Alaska District of the Corps of Engineers. Another in my family history worked on the original Panama Canal. Of the five children, I was the only one interested in engineering. Both my parents fully supported this career and I never even thought that it was unusual for a female to go into an engineering career. I started school in mining engineering, which looking back was even more unusual for a female. I always felt supported and equal to all the other people in engineering.

When you think of engineers or engineering as a hero, what does that mean to you?

If you haven’t seen it, please watch the film sponsored many years ago by the American Society of Civil Engineers called “Dream Big – Engineering Wonders of the World.”  Every day, engineers bring creativity, discipline and passion to their work. The film captures how engineers dream big to create a sustainable future and better quality of life for people everywhere – and as a bonus, it features one of Jacobs’ Geotechnical Engineers Dr. Menzer Pehlivan. Thinking of engineers as a hero means that what we do can have a huge positive impact on the lives of others. This can be everything from earthquake preparedness, to better transportation, to cleaning up the environment.

If you aren’t working, what would we be most likely to find you doing?

I love to travel and see new places, but that has been somewhat restricted for the last year or so. I am outside whenever possible, hiking, backpacking, kayaking or biking. I also just am getting started in woodworking as a new hobby.

Most interesting career moment?

Hard to choose. I would say that one of the most fun projects I ran was to explosively demolish a stack very close to an operating nuclear reactor. As you can guess, they were very concerned that the ground motion created by the stack falling would scram the reactor, so we had to do numerous evaluations to ensure that this wouldn’t occur. In one area, there was some security wiring that needed to be protected so we ended up piling old tires there to minimize the impact. That’s the type of problem solving that is fun.  

I was also fortunate to be able to support several proposals developed by Jacobs. Some of these were for work in England and Scotland, and I was able to visit the sites and spend several months working with a team of people from many countries. It’s so interesting to be around other cultures and be able to share ideas and experiences.

What would you rate a 10 out of 10?

All the great people that I know. This starts with my kids and family, and moves on to the great work family that I get to be a member of. We don’t always get along, but it is great when we can look back and laugh at all the crazy stuff we have done.

Most proud career moment?

This was pre-Jacobs when I started as a Civil Engineer for Chevron and worked at an asphalt refinery in Portland, Oregon. I worked there for about two years and enjoyed the challenges. All of the other engineers and the plant managers were men, but I didn’t think anything of it. I just did my job.

When I was moving on to a new responsibility, one of the men that I worked closest with and pulled me aside and told me that when he was told they had hired a female engineer, he threatened to quit. Then he went on to say that working together had changed his attitude completely. That made me feel so happy.

What advice would you give to young professionals?

Being a woman in engineering is more common than when I started, but it’s still a minority. There are many, many times that I find myself as the only woman in the room.

Don’t let it get to you and feel free to speak up. You may have to push harder than men to be heard, but you can do it. After a short while, neither you nor the others in the room will feel that you are not an equal part of the team (or maybe leading the team.)

People would be surprised to know that I….

Get so emotional about two issues – women in engineering and mental health. I gave a presentation in a Toastmasters group about women in engineering and could barely get through it without tearing up. My kids think I am crazy, which is probably true.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the Jacobs family?

I am very impressed by the strong and heart-felt push for inclusion and for the caring and understanding of differences and issues that our management shows. I am a Jacobs Mental Health Advocate, and simply the fact that Jacobs is forward thinking to sponsor such a program makes me proud. One of the Mental Health meetings that I recently attended not only had a safety message, but also a joke to help everyone during these stressful times which I thought was a great idea.

Join #OurJacobs team

What drives you drives us as we work to build a better world – together. At Jacobs, every day is an opportunity to make the world better, more connected, more sustainable.

We’re always looking for dynamic and engaged people to join our team. Bring your passion, your ingenuity and your vision. Let’s see the impact we can create, together.

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