Airport authority’s chief builder sets an example for excellence
An engineer with more than 30 years of experience, Evans has recently been hired as the new vice president for engineering for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. She's previously served for several large private engineering firms, has received three national awards for her work and directed major construction projects at Denver International Airport.
But Evans' attraction to engineering just started with a magazine article.
Evans was born in Colorado, in what she fondly refers to as “cattle country.” She grew up on a farm, an experience she credits with helping to develop her work ethic and practical skills.
A piano player as a youth, Evans' mother hoped she would study music, but after reading a Time magazine article that suggested those that were good at math could be good at engineering, Evans was sold.
“I picked engineering without knowing very much about it,” Evans admitted.
Her test scores earned her scholarships from the Boettcher Foundation and the Chevron and in 1973, Evans headed to Colorado State University to study civil engineering. While she had the work ethic, she found her high school education left her slightly behind.
Evans was one of just six women in her freshman engineering class; just three would graduate in 1977. Following her undergraduate, Evans headed straight to graduate school, earning her master's in civil engineering in 1979. There, she was the only woman in her class.
“Thankfully, there are more women in engineering now, but we still want more,” Evans said. “I try to respond to any invitation I get from colleges and high schools to speak to minorities and women about an engineering career.”
Immediately after graduation, Evans went to work in the coal industry, still a bustling field in the 80s in the west. But by the mid-80s, the industry was floundering, and Evans's career took a new direction.
Evans started doing contracted municipal work after her stint in the coal industry, doing a lot of work with the Denver and its airports. In 1986, her client at the airport was leaving and searching for someone to replace him. Evans fit the bill, staying with the airport for eight years, ascending to the rank associate director of aviation. She was barely 30 years old.
Under her auspice, the Denver International Airport was constructed, a $5.3 billion behemoth project that took five years and four months to finish. Evans would ultimately manage a staff of 600 and 300 contracts. The Engineering News-Record, a trade publication, would name her the 1994 Woman Engineer of the Year for her work.
Over the course of the next 19 years, Evans would work with various private engineering firms, consisting of CH2M Hill, Carter Burgess and Parsons, serving as chief aviation engineer, aviation manager and senior vice president of the aviation division respectively.
Her private work took her all of the world, with domestic projects in San Francisco, Miami, Denver and New York and international projects as close as Calgary and as far as Asia, though she would make her home base in New York. Her travel, Evans said, allowed her to learn the best practices from all over the world.
This would prove handy as she continued orchestrated million and billion dollar projects, including the longest runway in Canada.
In 2004, Evans moved to Arlington and says she is grateful to have a hometown.
“Jet-setting around the world for six years is fun for a while but its wearing and you feel detached from the community,” Evans said. “Two of our daughters live in Arlington; one of them lives across the street, and another lives a mile away. That's what we call mom heaven. Other daughter is in New York.”
A Dulles state of mind
On Feb. 19, MWAA tapped Evans to be the new vice president of engineering, a job that will include not only facilitating airport construction, but also the development of the Silver Line Metrorail project and maintenance of the Dulles Greenway.
We've talked about multi-modal ever since I was in graduate school. This agency is doing it, in addition to two key airports. They took on this rail program, which is a very important facility for the region and I would say the country,” Evans said. “There's no question that rail and airports are something all cities want … Everyone is going to want one.”
For her part, Evans says she's not intimidated by the huge implications of her job.
“I grew up with complex multi-billion dollar projects. I've been doing it since I was 30 years old,” Evans said. “I love the business, I love the industry and I love the challenge.”
A member of the DC Women's Forum, Evans is equally thrilled about the impression she can make on young women on the value not only of engineering, but of working in executive positions.
“It matters a lot to these young women to see that it's possible and see that it's doable and to see that it's worth the learning process and the struggle and the adaptation they may have to go through,” Evans said. “I think it's possible for young women not only to succeed, but to excel.”
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