Hillary Clinton, Nelson Mandela and our own Áine Brazil share a significant distinction; they have all been conferred honorary doctorate degrees from the National University of Ireland Galway.
On June 12, the vice chairman was presented with a Degree of Doctor of Engineering from the university, from which she earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. “I feel very humbled to be joining such an amazing group and to be honored with a doctorate degree from my alma mater,” Áine said.
Áine was notified of her honorary degree in March. She had been nominated by the president of the university, Dr. Jim Browne, for her collective work throughout her 30-year career as an engineer. Browne also recommended her for the 2014 International Engineer of the Year award given by Engineers Ireland.
“Áine has pushed the boundaries of possibility, enhancing our living, working and visual environments,” Professor Michael Harnett of NUIG’s engineering department, who presented Áine’s citation at the ceremony, said. “Tall buildings, withstanding storm and earthquake, remain standing tall due to the efforts, dedication and encouragement of gifted engineers such as Áine.”
After the ceremony, Áine and members of her family attended a dinner at the university. Engineering is a very popular profession within her family, especially for the women. Her two nieces, Aine NiBrreasail and Bairbre O’Breasail, both have bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering and have previously interned with Thornton Tomasetti. Áine NiBrreasail holds a Ph.D. in geotechnical engineering from Imperial College in London, from which the vice chairman earned her master’s degree in structural engineering.
Aine’s family met her at NUIG to share in the momentous occasion.
Áine is an active alumna at NUIG. She serves as a board member of the Galway University Foundation, which has been raising capital for school projects and scholarships, with its primary focus shifting to the latter in the previous few years.
Áine has always been, and continues to be, passionate about encouraging women to join the engineering professon. To help young women establish a strong footing in engineering, she started a scholarship within the Galway University Foundation to provide financial support to young women pursuing a degree in the field, selecting one recipient each year.
To Áine, education was one of the most important influences in her decision to become an engineer. While attending her secondary school, she enrolled in honors math classes on the weekends to prepare for the advanced exams for placement in an engineering program. “You sense your strengths. I felt it was something I was good at,” she said. “Once I started engineering courses, I realized that I had made the right choice.”
Áine also has a family connection to NUIG. Her mother was employed by the university for 44 years, retiring the same year that Áine graduated. She worked in the bursar’s office, handling student grants and tuition billing, and was known for helping students with financial problems in school by advancing grant money or extending billing periods.
At the conferment ceremony, Áine was not only touched by the honorary degree, but also by the number of alumni who remembered her mother. “About 12 to 14 people came up to me at Galway and said, ‘I wouldn’t have made it through the university if it were not for your mother,” she said. “There was one professor who told me that he was late on his bills one year and my mother figured out a way for him to pay.”
During her acceptance speech, Áine focused on three key points that have resonated with her throughout her career: encouragement, support and opportunity. “Life is full of opportunities,” she said. “Without the opportunities that Thornton Tomasetti has given me, I know I would not have received this honorary degree.”
The firm’s purpose and core values are the same ideals that have guided Áine in her work and have helped her develop her career. “I am certainly passionate about the work I do,” she said. “The firm has always challenged me to grow and take on the next big project. And every day I come into work, I learn something new.”
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