Able to walk on stilts and juggle, Amanda Thomas could have very well pursued a career in the circus. Instead, the Graduate Engineer has found a home at ISG, where she enjoys juggling collaborative problem-solving with coordinating mentorship volunteer opportunities. Outside of work, you might find Amanda spending time with her husband, dog, and rabbit, going on a spontaneous kayaking trip on the Mississippi river, or getting frustrated by bad parking lot designs.
What is surprising about civil engineering?
When people hear “civil engineering,” they usually think of roads and bridges, but that’s only the surface of the profession. Site design and layout is a big puzzle—there are so many ordinances that go into the way parking lots and buildings are positioned on a site. If you’re not careful, you can finish a perfect site layout only to run into a landscape requirement that sends you back to the drawing board—luckily ISG has in-house landscape architects who are extremely helpful and adept at avoiding tripwires. My husband jokes that all I ever do when we’re out shopping is complain about the parking lots.
How do you develop solutions for clients?
When I start a project, I usually have a whole page of notes and scribbles to help me understand all the moving parts—then I brainstorm options. It’s inevitable that something will come up along the way that the team or client didn’t originally consider, and we have to problem-solve and adapt. This makes communication and clarity among the project team critically important. After all the options are pulled together, I try to find the best of both worlds. Final products don’t always look exactly like what everyone originally pictured, but that’s okay— happy-clients and long-term performance is how we measure success at ISG!
What is it about the A/E field that you think has the largest impact on the future?
GIS. The world is more integrated with it than most of us realize. I use some form of GIS on a daily basis and you probably do too. From your phone GPS rerouting you to save time on your morning commute, to firefighters modelling forest fire paths to save lives, GIS is all around. Having so much information and metadata readily available changes the way we’re able to interact with other people and makes it easier to have projects across the world without needing to be physically present. Understanding data geospatially can help us improve our markets and the services we deliver to clients.
What’s your favorite part of working at ISG?
I love the sense of community we have across offices. If I know someone in La Crosse or Storm Lake is the expert on a type of project or discipline, I can shoot out an email or pick up the phone and get an answer in moments. We might joke that one office is better than another, but we are always aware that we are one big team and have so many resources and mentors at our disposal.
How are you involved with mentorship?
I’m very passionate about mentoring. While I was at Minnesota State University, Mankato I helped start an afterschool program where college students exposed second- through sixth-graders to different types of engineering. Once I arrived at ISG, this experience helped me kick off a similar project at Echo Park Elementary in Burnsville. The “Explorers” program is introducing students to a broader range of engineering disciplines.
After Apple Valley High school heard about our involvement with Echo Park, they wanted us to get involved in an existing mentorship program as well. It’s been very uplifting to see a lot of multi-disciplinary employee owners in the firm—not only engineers—get involved in educating students about careers in A/E. The school has voiced their appreciation multiple times for all the ISG mentors we’ve provided, so we’re hopeful this partnership will continue into the foreseeable future.
Outside of ISG, I also volunteer with Big Brother Big Sister. My little has more energy than me and keeps me on my toes. I like introducing her to things she wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to do.
Who inspires you? Why?
Atticus Finch. I know he’s a fictional character, but his humility really is inspiring. The way he’s able to treat everyone the same regardless of their social or economic status can have a huge impact even today.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I don’t like to sit still for too long. I enjoy exploring new places that I’ve never been, including around the Twin Cities. Last summer a friend and I took a spontaneous kayaking trip down the Mississippi into downtown St. Paul. It was so fun to get a different view of the city. We also have a 1 ½ year old dog (Zuzu) and a 5 year old bunny (Donny) that take up a lot of our time—it’s a good thing they’re adorable. We also have three nieces and a nephew that we love to spend time with.
When are you going to debut your stilt walking talents in the office?
Given that the office is mostly glass, I’ll refrain from showing off my talents just in case I’m not as good as I think I am.