Women in Tunneling

Anna Kotas - May 2019's #WomenWhoTunnel

By Molly Burford posted 05-31-2019 12:00 AM


Each month, Women In Tunneling will feature an exemplary female member of the tunneling industry. For May 2019, this particular trailblazer is Anna Kotas, a geotechnical engineer! Read our interview with Kotas below all about her involvement in the industry, how she got started, and what we can do to bring more women into this exciting field. 

  1. What is your actual involvement in the tunneling business?

    GeoTesting Express (GTX) is the top commercial rock mechanics labs in North America.  We are involved in all phases of the tunneling process with particular emphasis on the design phase of tunnels.  GTX performs a full-range of tests on rock, servicing the geotechnical, tunneling, mining and excavation industries, we provide rapid strength, abrasion and index testing of rock samples.  My job at GTX is to facilitate any type of testing needed on any type of tunnel at the highest quality level and turn around the results faster than any of our competitors.


  1. How have you been introduced to tunnel industry?

    My mom was a mining engineer so underground tunneling was part of dinner discussion since I was a little girl.  Professionally, I became involved with tunneling projects at the beginning of my tenure at GTX.  Since 2016 I’ve repeatedly helped clients avoid the costly expenditure of sending rock samples for testing to the SINTEF facility in Norway.  Instead, I’ve worked with Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) design engineers to have the Drillability Test Suite, which aids in producing reliable predictions of TBM performance, right here in North America at the GeoTestng Express Laboratories in Acton, Massachusetts. 


  1. What do you think women can bring to this business?

    The exact same thing that any good male engineer can...only we can do it while wearing pants OR skirts if we so choose!  Women are bringing a good balance to a historically male-oriented business.  Nothing bad can come from opening the proverbial doors in the tunneling industry to both genders equally.  A Diverse design team is more innovative and often avoids key flaws in design by allowing both genders their input based on our different life experiences and backgrounds.  


  1. Do you think that the presence of women changes a tunneling work environment? Did you have different experiences in different countries?

    Since my own mother worked at a coal mine in Poland in the 80’s, I grew up with the notion that there was nothing particularly intriguing or controversial about a woman working shoulder to shoulder with men.  I am convinced that in addition to a good balance of perspectives, the presence of women in tunneling, or frankly any other industry, simply brings a more natural mix of views, life experiences, insight and creativity to the business. 


  1. Even if the number of women has been increasing over the years, the tunneling industry is still considered a male oriented environment. What can be done in your opinion to bring awareness of this business to a larger number of women?

    The solution is women helping other women get in!  To the good open minded gentlemen that have hired women on their teams...I salute them and ask for their continuing focus on workplace equality.  However, by sharing their success in the tunneling industry women can entice, encourage and inspire other women to go for it too!  By plowing the field, the female pioneers of the tunneling industry showed by example that women are just as capable, technically savvy, tough and innovative as any male. But the work is not done...now those women have to reach out, speak out, recruit, and support new female grads and young engineers who are thinking about making the “tunneling” choice.