Walk into Jamie Farris's office and there's no doubt about her professional passion. Photos of bridges adorn her walls, which seem appropriate for the office belonging to the deputy director of TxDOT's Bridge Division, second-in-command of the entire unit. Based in Austin, the division has nearly 100 employees who play a role in managing and designing Texas' inventory of over 54,000 bridges.
Not bad for a girl from Victoria, Texas, who went to a community college in hopes of finding her calling.
"I had an interest in science and math, so after taking basic classes including physics, I eventually decided I wanted to be an engineer," Farris explains. With plenty of hard work and some luck at The University of Texas at Austin — which included summer internships and guidance from a world-renowned structural engineering professor — Farris joined a private consulting firm. In 2003, Farris joined TxDOT Bridge Division and became part of the growing list of female engineers at TxDOT.
She received a master of science degree in civil/structural engineering at The University of Texas at Austin in 2008 after applying for and being accepted into TxDOT's Master's Program, one of several programs offering leadership and educational opportunities to department employees.
Farris wholeheartedly enjoys the creativity of bridge design, both new construction and the rehabilitation of historic structures being rewarding efforts for her. Farris has enjoyed working on projects all over the state, and some of the projects she is most proud of include the Smithville Colorado River Bridge replacement, the Llano River Bridge rehabilitation, and Corpus Christi's Harbor Bridge procurement team. In the Waco District, she helped manage the contract for the unique Brazos River Bridges over I-35, which have received lots of media attention thanks to their signature design and lighting.
Also rewarding has been working with all the communities along I-35 for the Waco District's expansion project, determining what they wanted in their bridges and overpasses to make them unique. "Meeting with the citizens and working on plans they helped develop was very satisfying," Farris says.
"If you enjoy helping people and solving problems using creativity, I think you may have the makings of what takes to be a TxDOT engineer," Farris says.
Sharing the title of professional engineer with Jamie Farris is Mallory Donavan, the assistant area engineer in Gatesville. Like Farris, Donavan was good in science and math and also attended a junior college before graduating from Texas A&M University with a degree in civil engineering. Unlike Farris, Donavan knew she wanted to be an engineer early on, thanks to her father's encouragement. He was a career TxDOT construction designer.
"It's funny in a way. All the TxDOT family accepts and encourages women in all types of leadership and engineering roles, but sometimes the public has a difficult time with it." Donavan laughs when she talks about citizens speaking with her on the phone, asking to speak with the engineer. "'I am the engineer,' I tell them. Sometimes there's some silence at the other end, but after they realize I know what I'm talking about, it all turns out okay," she says.
In her position, Donavan oversees all the construction jobs in the Gatesville/Coryell County area. Her duties range from roadway and bridge design to solving contractor and personnel issues. "Among my biggest job-related accomplishments is being creative in solving challenging problems," she says, another professional characteristic she shares with Farris.
Donavan also joins Farris in applauding TxDOT for offering leadership and educational opportunities to their employees. For Donavan, it was the department's Engineering Assistant Career Development Program that allowed her to rotate among various engineering fields (i.e., design, construction, maintenance and traffic operations) to determine what suited her talent and interests the best.
Both women plan on retiring from TxDOT someday, decades from now. They encourage young women to consider engineering professions and careers with the department. Of course, they say, having a passion helps. But just liking math and science is a very good start.
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