“I’m glad I’m still connected to the School of Engineering community. It’s a positive association to carry through life.” – Amanda Dean ‘03
Amanda Dean is an associate at the Houston, Texas office of Cardno Haynes Whaley, which provides structural engineering services for a broad range of international projects. She is also an adjunct professor at the University of Houston.
Why did you choose the School of Engineering?
I’m from a Rutgers family. My aunts and uncles and my mom went to Rutgers. She was in the first class that admitted women to Rutgers College. I like being part of that tradition.
I actually started off majoring in ecology. I wanted to learn how the world works, but the field didn’t suit me. During the summer, I worked on a church-run house-building project with a civil engineer who inspired me. I ended up transferring to the School of Engineering as a junior. I majored in civil engineering.
What did you do after you graduated?
I went to the University of Texas at Austin for my master’s degree in civil engineering.
Why the University of Texas?
One of my professors, Dr. Nawy, who is now retired, encouraged me to go to school there to broaden my perspective. He said it was important for intellectuals and academics to avoid what he called “academic inbreeding.” He and Dr. Nenad Gucunski were big influences on my path.
I’m from Scotch Plains, New Jersey, so Texas was a big adjustment.
Did you stay on in Texas?
I worked in Philadelphia for a few years before moving back to Texas, to Houston. I really enjoy Houston, although I miss the mountains and shoreline of New Jersey. But I have a four-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter, so being here works well for me where I am in my life right now!
What do you do at Cardno Haynes Whaley?
Before coming here four years ago, I’d worked at three other engineering firms doing engineering problem solving. I am an associate at Cardno Haynes Whaley. I’ve gone from being a project engineer to taking on more of a project management role. I’m also becoming more involved in business development.
What are some of your current projects?
I just visited the site of a 14-story Westin Hotel in the Woodlands, a suburb of Houston. It’s a concrete structure I’ve been involved with. I’m also working on a four-story science and health professionals building for the University of St. Thomas in Houston, among other things.
You are also a teacher. What do you teach?
I’m an adjunct at the University of Houston, where I teach Tech II, which is structural engineering for second-year architects.
I love teaching. It’s a challenge because I’m not trained as a teacher, but it’s rewarding to see how much the students learn during the semester.
Is it challenging to be a woman in a male-dominated field?
Being a woman engineer is a huge part of my identity. I don’t think about it 95 percent of the time. I’ve become comfortable with myself: I’m an engineer but happen to be a woman.
But five percent of the time, I am aware that some prejudices are definitely still there, more with older generations. So it can be challenging, but most of the time it doesn’t matter.
Did it make any difference at the School of Engineering?
Rutgers was fantastic for women! We were made aware of opportunities. Not only was there no difference between men and women students, but there was also an incredible amount of support for women students. I’ve encountered some prejudice in the working world, but having gone to such a supportive school definitely enables me to have the confidence to deal with any difficulties I might encounter.
What was your biggest takeaway from your experience as a student?
I appreciate the wonderful professors who taught me. They gave me a good engineering tool kit for the world. They were supportive of all students on both personal and academic levels.
What stands out in your engineering tool kit?
I’m a good problem solver – I always have been. But my SoE professors taught me how to think like an engineer and apply this thinking as I move forward in my career.
Do you have a favorite architect?
I had the pleasure of working with Michael Graves a few years ago. He makes wonderful use of color.
What do you do for fun?
I love playing with my kids! We go to parks and playgrounds and we go hiking. For me right now, my spare time is all about spending time with my kids.
If someone had a 24-hour layover in Houston, what should they do?
You’d have to eat some barbeque! And go to Hermann Park and the zoo there. It’s awesome! There are great museums here, too, like the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. It’s also a great city for outdoor concerts.
What was the last movie you saw?
Believe it or not, the last movie I saw in a theater was Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
If you were to take a vacation tomorrow, where would you go?
I’d go to Vermont. I’m a hiker and I miss the mountains.
What does it mean to be an SoE alumna?
Rutgers was such a positive experience for me. I’m glad I’m able to stay connected to the university and the School of Engineering and be part of this community. Being an alumna is a big part of my identity.
When I moved to Houston, people would tell me that I don’t talk like I’m from New Jersey. But this is what we talk like! Telling people I’m from New Jersey and Rutgers immediately identifies me and gives people a sense of who I am. People are impressed. It’s a positive thing to say and a positive association to carry through life.