Home    AECOM    Insight

AECOMs Victoria Blackwell is an environmental justice expert

AECOM's Victoria Blackwell is an environmental justice expert

 April 09, 2024

 Read time

AECOM's People Spotlight series provides an inside look at the company's technical experts from around the world.

Meet AECOM's Project Manager and environmental justice (EJ) subject matter expert, Victoria Blackwell, from the company's Environment business line in the U.S. East region.

Transparent and collaborative communication is central to Victoria’s work. Discover how she’s elevating community input to shape meaningful project outcomes and learn more about Victoria's inspiration and role with AECOM.

AECOM career

Devising solutions to environmental, social and economic issues

Victoria is an Environmental Engineer by education and a Project Manager by training. She is a relationship builder, communicator and environmental justice practitioner. Victoria is committed to empowering communities through her work with AECOM, championing community participation in devising solutions to environmental, social and economic issues that determine their quality of life.

Additionally, her efforts extend to supporting fellow engineers, scientists and policy and change makers in the pursuit of equitable outcomes for all. She uses her cultural, professional, technical and individual experiences toward those aims.

Inspiration to join the environmental industry

AECOM Environmental Engineer

In middle school, Victoria explains that she was surrounded by highly committed, intentional teachers and advisors who encouraged her and fueled her interest in a STEM career.

"I attended a STEM career day fair with hands-on activities where I 'tried out' aspects of different jobs and engineering caught my interest," says Victoria.

"I chose environmental engineering because developing solutions to environmental problems felt like a wonderful way to make a positive contribution to the world. I studied environmental engineering at North Carolina State University and then at Pennsylvania State University for graduate school."

"I went on to get my license and spent a couple of years as a practicing environmental engineer. During this time, I worked with people who were extremely generous with their knowledge and mentorship. They introduced me to organizational equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) and helped me see the alignment between social equity — making sure people have dignity and are cared for in their environment — and the built environment, which, when poorly designed, can worsen existing inequalities. Environmental justice brings me closest to the community, and it’s where I feel most impactful, so that has been my focus ever since," Victoria shares.

AECOM environmental justice subject matter

A favorite AECOM project Victoria has worked on

One of Victoria's favorite projects that she has worked on with AECOM is the Vulnerability Study for MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority), that has involved a comprehensive review of their programs and operations to identify ways the authority can better serve vulnerable populations in Metro Atlanta.

"MARTA’s Office of Sustainability initiated the study, which includes assessing climate hazard and risks to infrastructure and developing a climate action resilience plan with recommendations for climate adaptation, an environmental justice and equity assessment, a review of internal sustainability, and creation of a change management plan to guide the implementation of the findings and recommendations," comments Victoria.

"For the equity and EJ assessment section of the study, we looked at a full spectrum of risks and impacts to MARTA users, considering issues like proximity of rail stations and bus stops to human services such as hospitals and grocery stores. We completed an EJ screening and used geospatial mapping and data analysis tools like the USDOT Equitable Community (ETC) Explorer to assess transportation-related disadvantages for socially vulnerable populations."

Victoria explains that they asked questions such as, "Are there high instances of unemployment, and does the existing transit infrastructure connect those areas with employment centers?”, “How are MARTA’s existing programs performing for people with disabilities compared to people without disabilities?”, or “What areas within MARTA’s service area have high instances of certain environmental burden indicators (e.g., air quality) that could be impacted by bus activity in specific areas?”

Making a positive impacts for vulnerable communities

Victoria and her team's approach is to inform decision making so that MARTA’s current and future sustainability initiatives will make positive impacts to vulnerable communities.

"One example would be starting MARTA’s bus fleet transition program in these 'hot spot' areas we’ve identified to improve air quality for these communities as quickly as possible. We sent our draft of the vulnerability study to MARTA in December, and we hope to help them focus on implementation of recommendations. Our overarching goal is to weave individual indicators of social vulnerability into the fabric of decision making and planning, and implementation of their initiatives at MARTA," says Victoria.

"Oftentimes with EJ, we’re asked to 'parachute in' as an add-on to different types of projects. While this isn’t a bad thing — we’re able to help impact where people live, work and play on a wide range of projects — we don’t get to apply a comprehensive approach that can come with being involved in the beginning, middle and end of projects. With MARTA, I’ve been involved since the project’s kick-off and along the way I’ve worked with teams across AECOM, including Strategy+ and our climate resilience and adaptation teams, to take a close look at all the factors that contribute to equitable transportation and propose next steps to help this major organization better serve the people it is meant to serve. I’m looking forward to seeing the outcomes for Metro Atlanta."

Environmental justice work cultivating partnerships with communities

When working for national as opposed to local clients, Victoria explains that sometimes the best way to make an impact for the community is by inserting checkpoints and disrupting their usual way of doing things.

"We encourage them to take a pause to really listen to the concerns of the community and develop an appropriate response that meets their needs or addresses the root of their concerns, beyond 'we hear you, and we’ve collected your concerns.' We’re amplifying those voices and creating a space to listen to them and respect what they’re saying. Language shapes the way we think and the way we act and getting it right on behalf of our clients is part of the solution," explains Victoria.

"Our EJ work for the development of a new energy utility center is a notable example of helping our clients re-imagine how they cultivate partnerships with communities in impacted areas, not just the city councils and permitting agencies. Though holding a meeting may be more convenient, it isn’t good enough if only 20 out of 100 people in an impacted area attend the meeting. So we need to consider changing our engagement strategy. Perhaps we go door-to-door in impacted areas. The goal is always transparent, collaborative communication that yields a solution that meets the client’s needs and supports the community’s vision."

Enhancing community access to decision-making

Victoria and her team's work involved project-based EJ analysis and procedural interventions or recommendations that enhance community access to the decision making process and build accountability to the insights they share.

"We considered the existing conditions, e.g. air quality and the highest level of education of the population in developing targeted solutions that will benefit the community. For example, if the goal of the project is to create jobs, it is necessary to make sure that those jobs are either attainable within the educational and skill level of the community or can provide pathways to other certifications or programs that would empower the community to truly share in that benefit," shares Victoria.

Impactful career advice

AECOM career advice

For Victoria, her most important piece of career advice is to understand one's own values as a person in the world and for each individual to do their best to reflect those values in their career decisions.

"...I am compelled to create spaces that vibrate with connection and compassion. I welcome people into that space and when they leave, they feel like they matter because I’ve demonstrated that they do," says Victoria.

"That’s what I hope to do for clients — in solidarity and partnership with those who experience any number of social vulnerabilities to open up the space to see and hear their experiences and positively change the systems that impact them. This makes my work meaningful and satisfying."

AECOM meaningful work

Inspired by Victoria's work in elevating community input?

AECOM believes infrastructure has the power to uplift communities and improve people’s lives.

Bring expertise, skills and unique perspective to help AECOM solve its clients’ biggest challenges.

Search AECOM job vacancies.


Search jobs

Stay connected by subscribing to our monthly newsletter and following us on LinkedIn, X, Instagram and Facebook.

Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.


Join our women's careers community