Amanda Hess, PE, CFM

Amanda Hess, PE, CFM


Amanda Hess, PE, CFM


“I feel so lucky to have joined Gannett Fleming in 1999. I love the technical challenge associated with my work. I work with a great group of people and can’t imagine myself anywhere else.”

Specializing in the hydrologic proportioning of structures, Gannett Fleming Vice President Amanda Hess spent the first two decades of her career honing her expertise in dam safety engineering. Advancing professionally at an accelerated rate, Amanda quickly emerged as the manager of the “Hydraulics” part of the Geotechnical, Dams, and Hydraulics Business Line. She has grown the hydraulics group from herself to a full-service team of hydrologic and hydraulic engineers.

Amanda is a nationally-recognized subject matter expert, regularly teaches two-week-long popular engineering seminars with Dr. Art Miller of Penn State, serves on consulting boards for prestigious dam projects, and provides expert testimony and litigation support for flood-related cases. She has published numerous journal papers, is a frequent and favorite speaker at national conferences, and co-authored the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s national guidelines on Selecting and Accommodating Inflow Design Floods for Dams.

Now at the mid-point of her career, Amanda is keenly aware of her work’s importance and appreciates the opportunities to collaborate and impart her knowledge. Helping people solve problems fuels her drive, which isn’t surprising, considering how her mentors at Gannett Fleming set her career in motion and how she benefited from guidance and opportunities from a professor at Penn State, where Amanda earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering.

We asked Amanda a few questions. Get to know her here:

What brought you to Gannett Fleming?

Near the end of my master’s program at Penn State, a professor of mine, Dr. Arthur Miller, directed me toward Gannett Fleming. Although I interviewed with eight or nine different firms, nothing compared to my interview experience with Gannett Fleming’s Paul Schweiger and Bill Bingham. I knew then that this was what I wanted to do, and I developed a passion for working on dams and hydraulic structures.

I feel so lucky to have joined Gannett Fleming in 1999. I love the technical challenge associated with my work. I work with a great group of people and can’t imagine myself anywhere else.

Tell us about your role and responsibilities at Gannett Fleming, as well as the business group you’re a part of.

As the lead of our hydraulics and hydrology group, I ensure the team has exciting and challenging projects to work on and the skills and software they need to successfully perform their roles. I provide training and mentoring, too.

As a practitioner, my specialty is the proportioning and evaluation of hydraulic structures. From determining the design discharge to developing water surface profiles and estimating the potential for scour, my work establishes the basis of design for the design team. I also specialize in dam breach modeling to support emergency action planning.

What solutions do you provide to your clients?

The analyses my team and I complete are focused on right-sizing hydraulic structures. The watershed modeling and 1D, 2D, and 3D (CFD) modeling is focused on providing the most efficient structure possible that meets the design criteria.

How has technology transformed your work?

When I first started, a significant amount of time was required to develop input from which we could perform a model run. We processed data using mostly brainpower. Today, technology has allowed us to automate and speed up the initial data development time, so that now we can perform more model runs. Ultimately, this benefits the design process.

What is your favorite part of the process of designing dams?

The big picture brainstorming is my favorite part. I thoroughly enjoy alternatives analysis and conceptual design. Although I am a part of the design team, I am not normally responsible for all of the details.

Why is safety engineering critical in designing and constructing dams and levees?

When a dam fails, the impact on nearby structures and human life can be catastrophic and wreak havoc on a community. That’s why the design standards for dams and levees are set so high and why we take such care to evaluate potential failure modes. Infrastructure can be rehabilitated to mitigate risk, and that’s what we are here to help our clients do.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of creating a dam safety program?

Teaching has been the most rewarding part of my work! There’s nothing like teaching to help one gain a deeper understanding of the subject, and I so enjoy the opportunity to solidify my knowledge on a topic. Every time I teach, I learn something new.

The opportunity to teach and provide training through the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) came about thanks to my professor, Dr. Miller, whom I taught alongside for many years. I am also involved in dam safety through my participation in the United States Society on Dams (USSD). Both organizations share a passion for dam safety education, and my involvement has allowed me to meet many great people who share the same passion for dam safety engineering as I do.

How does Gannett Fleming support your professional development and career growth?

Gannett Fleming worked with me to adjust my schedule throughout the years, allowing me flexibility when my children were young. Our leadership has also recognized my strengths and what I enjoy doing and has pointed my career in a direction that fostered my passion and growth.

What do you see for the next generation of engineers at Gannett Fleming and in the AEC industry?

One challenge and opportunity that we all have to address is artificial intelligence (AI) and computer learning. I anticipate clients will desire to leverage AI tools if it leads to less costly design services. Many industries have and will continue to face disruption by technology. We may find that we humans continually need to demonstrate the value of our brains, proving that a slightly more expensive design may save significant construction or operation and maintenance dollars. That could become a differentiator.

How does your work contribute to Gannett Fleming’s vision of creating a better future, together?

I take dam safety very seriously. Clients rely on us to help communities understand where problems exist and the risks associated with the infrastructure. Risk analysis is critical to help stakeholders triage and prioritize project funding needs. Resilient infrastructure is paramount.

What behavior or personality trait do you most attribute your professional success to?

My communication skills. Communicating technical concepts to people in digestible, bite-sized pieces so people can follow along is something I do well.

When did you realize you wanted to work in your industry?

Attending high school in rural Pennsylvania, I was fortunate to have had math and science teachers expose me to Engineering Day at Carnegie Mellon University and Penn State. Throughout these experiences, I realized that you don’t have to live in a big city or work at a large manufacturing plant to be a registered engineer—that you can spend time outdoors, in nature.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

When it all seems too much—balancing work, life, and family—give yourself grace. Strive to find joy in what comprises your life. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. There are many paths. Find your path for this time in life.

If you’re willing to share, please tell us about your family.

I am a wife and mother of three. My family and I, including our rescued lab mix, enjoy hiking as well as crabbing and fishing on the Chesapeake Bay. We enjoy traveling as a family, too.

What’s your favorite family tradition?

I’m a native Pennsylvanian, and my family lives in rural Western Pennsylvania. After Thanksgiving dinner each year, we all head outside and blow up pumpkins for fun.

What’s your favorite way to unwind after a busy day?

I enjoy jigsaw puzzles. It’s something the family can do together.

What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

If I tell you, then everyone will know.


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