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Q&A: Talking with Michele Holland, Federal Civilian Agencies Portfolio Operations Director

Jacobs’ Federal Civilian Agencies Portfolio Operations Director, Michele Holland, talks career, her STEAM heroes and her love of her Mom’s lemon meringue pie!

Michele Holland, PE, PMP, is the Federal Civilian Agencies Portfolio Operations Director. A graduate of Virginia Tech with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and a Master of Science in Structural Engineering, Michele began her career designing large infrastructure and facility projects in the Washington D.C. area before moving overseas to support bridge and infrastructure projects in Gurgaon, India and then on to deliver program management support in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Michele joined Jacobs in 2011 as a Project Manager in the Arlington, Virginia office. She has since moved to Raleigh, North Carolina where she is on a never-ending quest to find the best craft beer and BBQ in the state.

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 Michele about career, the STEAM heroes who inspire her andher love of her Mom’s lemon meringue pie!

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

Recent and forthcoming legislation, from the Great American Outdoors Act to the Infrastructure Bill, is creating a lot of opportunities in our Federal Civilian portfolio. To really capitalize on them – and most importantly, to deliver well – we’ve got to build teams that pull together our federal experience, Solutions and Technology (S&T) expertise, and local knowledge. I spend a lot of my time collaborating with our Sales, Operations, and S&T partners, both within and beyond our Federal team, to identify the experience and expertise we need, and then make sure they are set up for successful project execution.

What’s your favorite part of your role?

I love connecting people with opportunities to do what they’re passionate about – whether that’s getting into the weeds of management processes to look for improvements, speaking to a client about decarbonization technologies, or bringing their commitment to conservation to our National Parks program.

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?

Like a lot of women of my generation, Sally Ride was, and is, a huge deal to me. Watching her on TV in her flight suit, and hearing about her background as a scientist, was really inspiring. Another member of the space program, a bit less well known, is engineer Homer Hickham – like me, he grew up in a coal mining town in Appalachia and went to Virginia Tech to be an engineer. I had worried a lot before I applied to college that our very limited school system would leave me unprepared and unable to compete with the Northern Virginia kids. Our tiny high school had only had a physics class for a handful of years before I took it, meanwhile rumor had it there was an entire high school dedicated to science and technology in Northern Virginia. Learning about Hickham’s story and how he landed his dream job at NASA gave me some confidence that success at Virginia Tech wouldn’t be all about where you came from, but how hard you were willing to work.  

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

The thing about engineers is that we’re problem solvers. We can’t stop thinking about ways that something could be done better, faster, more efficiently. But what makes engineering heroic is that the vast majority of the time, the problems we look to solve aren’t for our own benefit, but rather on behalf of a larger community. Where I grew up, engineers made mines safe for workers, narrow mountain roads safer to navigate, and more recently, have worked to expand WiFi to the most remote areas. That’s heroic to me.

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

Reading, cooking (but not baking – I have no patience for exact measurements!) and traveling.

Most interesting career moment?

Changing planes at Dulles International Airport, heading down to catch the people mover, and having a sudden déjà vu moment when I realized I was standing inside the first project I ever designed. Seeing it full of people, all the design elements coming together as we intended…it was incredibly cool.

What would you rate a 10 out of 10?

My mom’s lemon meringue pie. It’s not a secret recipe or anything, likely came off the box of lemon Jello! But my mom made it the way her mom taught her to make it – shortcuts where you need it (store bought crust), and put the effort in where it counts (stir the lemon curd until your arm is about to fall off). 

Most proud career moment?

After spending over a year working on the design of that project at Dulles, it was ready to go into construction, and we needed to provide construction admin support. My boss was prepared to hand it over to another engineer in our office, saying he was going to put me on another design project and noting I’d “probably prefer that to field work”. I thought about it for a day or so, then I went to him and asked, “why not me?”. He was surprised, but agreed that if I wanted to do it, he’d let me run with it. Years later, he told me that decision – to ask to stay on through construction – was the smartest move I could have made and impressed him and our leadership. I learned not to let anyone make assumptions about what I was capable of, and to speak up when there was an opportunity I wanted.

What advice would you give to young professionals?

Put the time in. We’re in a society that is ever-more focused on instant gratification, and it can seem at the start of your career that you’re just treading water…especially when there are so many new and exciting opportunities popping up. But the truth is, at some point, you have to put your head down, do the work, and put the time in – learn your craft, and build a reputation for delivering quality work, on time. Great opportunities come to people who can be counted on to deliver.

People would be surprised to know that I….

Am a strong supporter of Argentina’s football (soccer) team. It’s a long story – ask me about it sometime at a happy hour!

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

Hands down, the thing that I am most proud of as a Jacobs team member is that our company walks the talk. Sustainability, equity, caring about your people…it’s all the rage these days and a lot of companies have slick marketing campaigns and taglines that tout their commitment to environmental, social and governance. Jacobs publicly commits and then delivers.

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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