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Accomplished female engineer first recipient of award

A female mechanical engineer who has successfully broken into the male dominated field of earthquake engineering has been identified as a future leader and honoured for her world-leading research in Canterbury.

Thirty-two year old Virginie Lacrosse of Tonkin + Taylor is the first recipient of the QuakeCoRE and New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering (NZSEE), ‘Women in Earthquake Engineering Award’.

In awarding the inaugural honour and $10,000 prize money at the four-yearly Pacific Conference on Earthquake Engineering, the judges were looking to recognise “an academic and professional woman for ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit who has been involved in industry leading innovative solutions”.

In particular, the judges noted, “Virginie’s strong career to date and future potential. She met all three award criteria, not just one or two categories – pioneering research, leadership of earthquake risk mitigation and creative solutions in earthquake engineering”.

The judges also noted that Virginie had strong employer support, close connections to the New Zealand Centre for Earthquake Resilience (QuakeCoRE) and intends to put the prize money into furthering a career in leadership.

Virginie plans to use the money to develop a national roadshow that specifically targets female teens (15-18 years) to promote earthquake engineering as a career choice. “The importance of a fulfilling career choice is of particular relevance to me now that I have a daughter of my own”, she says.

Bio – Virginie Lacrosse:

Virginie Lacrosse joined Tonkin + Taylor as a young mechanical engineer in the midst of the Canterbury earthquakes. She was quickly promoted on account of her leadership skills and outstanding technical aptitude.

Since then, Virginie has been a key part of the team that identified and qualified Increased Liquefaction Vulnerability (ILV) - a type of land damage that had never been recognised anywhere else in the world before. Her work was instrumental in helping to create the framework that enabled the assessment of more than 100,000 Canterbury properties to determine if they had sustained ILV land damage.

Virginie’s outstanding contribution to that research resulted in her becoming a recognised liquefaction vulnerability mapping specialist. Accordingly, she has advised Councils throughout New Zealand on how to manage and mitigate their risk of liquefaction-induced land damage, thus helping those communities to become more resilient.

Virginie has contributed to, authored and co-authored 11 technical papers to date, including the internationally meritorious ‘Assessment of Liquefaction-Induced Land Damage for Residential Christchurch’, which received the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) Outstanding Paper Award in San Francisco, in 2016.

She was also a member of the team that developed the award-winning New Zealand Geotechnical Database, which has been credited for helping foster the culture of sharing geotechnical information that has significantly expedited Canterbury’s recovery. In 2016, the project won the most prestigious prize in New Zealand engineering – a Gold ACENZ Award.

The following year, Virginie was named as a finalist for Engineering New Zealand’s ‘Young Engineer of the Year’.

The Belgian-born engineer is not only accomplished, she is well-liked and highly regarded, as is evident from comments made by one of her earthquake engineering colleagues, Mike Jacka QSM.

“Virginie is living proof that you don’t need to fit the stereotypical mould to make your mark in our industry”, he says. “As someone trained as a mechanical engineer, from a country that doesn’t even have proper earthquakes, Virginie wouldn’t be an obvious choice for an earthquake engineering role. If it wasn’t for the shortage of geotechnical engineers after the Canterbury Earthquakes, we might not have even hired her.

“But I’m glad we did. Not only has she achieved so much in her own right, she has also demonstrated to everyone around her that there is no need to be limited to what ‘conventional wisdom’ says you are able to do.”

© Scoop Media

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