GHA Connections: Sarah Ann Ronan

 

Sarah Ann Ronan, P.E., a key member of the Municipal Services Division at Gewalt Hamilton Associates, Inc. (GHA), brings a distinctive approach to engineering. Sarah began her career with GHA’s Summer Internship Program, acquiring valuable hands-on experience in the field. After completing her internship, Sarah joined GHA full-time, where she began working in the Construction and Survey Division. Her time there allowed her to apply and expand upon her field experience in a practical setting. After three and a half years, seeking to further diversify her skills and contribute to a different aspect of GHA’s projects, Sarah decided to transfer to the Municipal Services Division. Her story highlights not just her professional development but also the supportive and dynamic culture at GHA.

Early Life and Influences

Born into a family with Irish roots, Sarah’s father immigrated to the U.S. at 18 years old where he worked as a general builder. Growing up around work sites, she was often where she “shouldn’t be,” resulting in a childhood filled with scrapes and bruises. “I was always in the thick of things, which probably sparked my interest in construction and engineering,” she says with a laugh.

Sarah’s engineering journey started during her high school years, thanks to her annual participation in the Project Lead the Way program. By participating in the program every year during high school, Sarah gained new insights and skills annually, culminating in her junior year when the focus shifted to civil engineering. This year proved pivotal, not only introducing her to the fundamentals of civil engineering but also aligning with her natural affinity for math. “I’ve always had a thing for math. It might sound odd to some, but to me, it’s a language that makes sense,” she shares.

Thinking back on the opportunities presented to her by the Project Lead the Way program during her high school years, Sarah expresses gratitude for the foundational role it played in her engineering journey. “I was incredibly fortunate to have Project Lead the Way. It really laid the groundwork for my career,” she acknowledges. Reflecting on the differences in educational opportunities between her high school years and today, Sarah notes the significant changes. “The contrast in resources is striking. Today’s students have access to tools and experiences that are truly transformative,” she observes. “We’re providing young professionals with the skills and opportunities that go far beyond what was available in the past, and that’s incredibly exciting,” she remarks.

GHA’s Summer Internship Program

During her internship at GHA, Sarah was exposed to a rich tapestry of experiences, ranging from design work to as-built projects. Her years in GHA’s Internship Program also included work on MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) projects, offering her a more complete view of the field. However, it was her second summer, spent working as a construction engineer, that really reminded her of the early days on job sites with her dad, cementing her love for the field and shaping her future in civil engineering.

Sarah’s appreciation for GHA extends beyond her professional role, touching on the firm’s unique environment and culture. “Despite its size, GHA feels like a close-knit community. Everyone’s role is impactful,” she reflects. She fondly recalls her structured internship, particularly the classes on traffic data collection and intersection design. “Our interns are hands-on, making real contributions. It’s a culture of active participation and finding one’s niche.”

Sarah acknowledges the significant role that her diverse experiences at GHA played in molding her professional trajectory. “The range of opportunities I had through GHA’s Internship Program was incredible. From construction engineering to MS4 work, each experience honed my skills and helped to clarify my interests,” she says. Eventually, Sarah found her true calling in the Municipal Services Division, where she could blend her love for fieldwork with complex design work. “Landing in the Municipal Division felt like coming home. It blended my passion for being on-site with the detailed design work I’d come to enjoy.” she explains.

Her work as a Resident Engineer in the Construction Division after her internship gave Sarah deep insights into job sites, and this proved especially valuable when she joined the Municipal Services Division. “Designing is more intuitive when you’ve been on the ground. There’s a clarity you get on-site that’s irreplaceable,” she says. Leo Morand, P.E., Director of Municipal Services, echoes this sentiment: “Sarah’s blend of field experience and design acumen is fundamental to our team’s success. As we continue to evolve, we’re incorporating these vital skills into a cohesive model that values diverse expertise and encourages collaborative efforts.”

Hawthorne Drive Project in Round Lake Beach

Engineering Foresight

Sarah emphasizes the importance of foresight in engineering, a lesson supported by her experiences at GHA. “Designing something unbuildable is every engineer’s nightmare. That’s why site visits are so vital,” she stresses. This belief was shaped by her involvement in the Hawthorne Drive project in Round Lake Beach. The project entailed extensive concrete work, along with updates to watermain and storm sewer systems, and faced the unexpected challenge of encountering unmarked utility lines. Navigating this issue highlighted the critical importance of proactive site assessments and adaptability in her engineering practice.

Looking back on the project, Sarah highlights how the team adapted: “The Hawthorne Drive project was a significant learning experience. When we found utility lines that weren’t documented, it really put our adaptability to the test. Our team’s ability to quickly adjust our plans and approach allowed us to effectively handle these surprises.” This experience reinforced the importance of being prepared for unforeseen issues and the strength of GHA’s responsive and flexible approach to engineering challenges. Sarah’s role in helping to navigate these hurdles exemplifies not only her personal growth but also the robust problem-solving capabilities of GHA’s Municipal Services Division.

Interests and Hobbies

Outside work, Sarah’s vibrant personality shines through in her hobbies. An avid Gaelic football player and coach, she also indulges in girls’ lacrosse, golf, reading, and family time. Sarah is currently enjoying her latest venture: coaching a girls’ lacrosse team in Park Ridge. With a smile, she remarks, “Coaching these young athletes in lacrosse is a blast. I enjoy bringing some of the teamwork and strategy to their game.”

Sarah’s story at GHA goes beyond just a professional journey; it’s about finding a place where a passion for engineering and personal growth can develop together. Her blend of design and practical construction knowledge not only elevates her projects but also mirrors GHA’s dedication to fostering versatile, skilled professionals. As the firm continues to evolve, Sarah’s experience shines as an example of this commitment.