Salish Middle School STEM students remember Amy Head. They think about her during the fall semester as they wrestle with questions of how to design cities that radiate less heat energy. They refer back to her guidance when deciding where to put roads or other infrastructure. And they are inspired by the fact that as young and relatable as Head is, she is also one of the partners and principal engineers at SCJ Alliance.
“They talk about how interesting she was,” says Erica Baker, a Salish Middle School teacher. “When they learn that she’s one of the bosses and co-owners of the company, it makes that seem attainable. She really helps them see that it’s possible for someone like them to have a major role in issues that are going to have an effect on the world around them.”
Head has been with the civil engineering and urban design company since its inception in 2006 and is the Principal at SCJ’s Lacey office. The firm also has an office in downtown Centralia, headed by Lewis county native Brandon Johnson. Head has been the Project Manager or Principal on many of the firm’s larger local projects, including multiple efforts at Briggs Village in Olympia and Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, where Johnson graduated, along with many of SCJ’s employees.
Outside the office, Head serves on the boards of the South Sound YMCA and South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) Foundation and contributes time every year to Salish Middle School’s urban design project. Colleagues and collaborators describe her as intelligent, patient and having the ability to steer complex projects to completion while inspiring confidence in those involved. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, she also serves as a role model to fellow engineers and middle school students alike.
Head’s involvement with Briggs has lasted so long – and outlasted so many of her municipal counterparts – that she has become the de facto project historian. “When you have projects that take years and years, people forget,” says Head. “Briggs started in the early ‘90s so there’s no one left at the city that even remembers how we addressed things. I have the documents.”
She has an equally long history with Saint Martin’s University, where she considers herself an honorary alumnus after completing seven separate campus projects. “I have this place in my heart for Saint Martin’s,” she says, “especially their engineering building. It was fun to work on that knowing it would be turning out the engineers who were going to be our interns.”
Mallory Dobbs was one such intern. She started at SCJ in 2015 while still a junior at Saint Martin’s and, upon graduation, joined the company as a full-time civil design engineer. Head has been her mentor. “One of the great things about Head is that she understands what it’s like to be a female engineer in a male-dominated industry,” says Dobbs. “She does a really good job of making sure we feel welcomed, appreciated and valued. She’s taken me under her wing and is teaching me about what she knows and has experienced over the years.”
Lacey Civil Engineering Manager Ross Jarvis also appreciates Head’s guidance. She hired him back in 2010 when she was in what is now his role. “Amy is a great resource for me,” he says. “We live in a world that isn’t necessarily black and white. If I need some advice to make a difficult or challenging decision, I know I can go to her.”
For South Sound YMCA Executive Director Kyle Cronk, Head’s expertise and leadership serve as what he terms a safety net. Aside from volunteering for the nonprofit’s board, she is the Principal in charge of the new Y facility being developed in Shelton. “Her deep knowledge of construction and all the planning documents you need in working with municipalities has been a huge help,” says Cronk. “Her professionalism is invaluable. I don’t need to know everything because there are experts like her that I can lean on for support and knowledge.”
While Head’s connection with the Y is both professional and personal, her contributions at Salish Middle School are strictly volunteer. Every year in Baker’s STEM class, her visit kicks off an engineering unit focused on how to design cities that reduce the urban heat effect. “It’s a great way to provide a foundation for the kids,” says Baker. “They get to see that cities don’t just happen. That street is there because somebody decided to put it there due to the environment around it. She really plays an integral role.”
At the end of the semester, Head returns and the students present their projects, explaining why they chose the materials and layouts they did and how different components are connected. Baker says her presence brings an added degree of relevance and immediacy to the curriculum. “Head has helped me strive to make better connections for the kids and provide more opportunities so it’s more like a real-world experience.”
For her part, Head maintains that such contributions wouldn’t be possible without SCJ’s culture of supporting the community. “A lot of things I’m able to do are between the 8:00 to 5:00 work hours,” she notes. “If I need to attend a meeting or be out beyond the lunch hour, I can take time out of the office to do that.”
Her connection with Salish Middle School is part of the Partners in Education (PIE) program with North Thurston Public Schools, where SCJ serves as Salish Middle School’s partner. Baker notes that for the past several years the firm has focused on underserved populations and families in need through holiday gift and clothing drives. “They have a big impact on our entire school,” she says. “They’re always looking for more ways to help us and benefit our kids. I really appreciate and respect them for that.”
Learn more at the SCJ Alliance website or by calling the Centralia office at 360-669-0770.