Amanda Kerr

Geotechnical Engineer
Black & Veatch

How did you get into the industry, and why did you decide to pursue it as a career?

I was introduced to the industry initially from school at ASU (Arizona State University) by one of my professors, Dr. Ariaratnam (affectionately known as Dr. Sam). He does a lot of great research work with trenchless technologies and was passionate about getting students involved with organizations like NASTT (North American Society for Trenchless Technology). What really made me decide to pursue tunneling as a career path was actually a job interview with Jim Stevens that took place while walking around in an equipment yard where Michels was storing an old EPB TBM. We had a really great, candid conversation about the challenges of tunneling construction, and I never really looked back from tunneling after that.


What do you do in the underground construction industry, and how long have you been in the industry?

I’m currently a tunnel engineer with a design consulting firm, but I got my start by working as an engineer for a tunneling contractor. I’ve been involved in the underground construction industry in some capacity since 2014.


What is it like to work as an engineer on underground projects?

Practically speaking, the day-to-day depends so much on your role in the industry. As a contractor, there were a lot of incredibly fast-moving, think-on-your-feet situations that really shaped how I approach the design of tunnels and underground infrastructure in my role now as a consultant. In my opinion, the common theme of working on underground projects is having the right mindset to expect the unexpected.


What professional achievements have defined you and made you proud?

My proudest achievement to this day has been managing a TBM retrieval shaft site as a pretty green field engineer. This site had a little bit of what seemed like everything at the time: pre-excavation grouting, a drilled shaft, secant piles, drill and blast, and hand tunneling, all needing to be done in time to retrieve the project’s EPB TBM. My boss at the time gave me a great opportunity to prove myself (as well as a big kick in the pants to really take charge and get it done). I was so proud to fully manage that piece of work knowing that we completed the excavation on time and relatively smoothly. It was one of the first times I got a taste of having true responsibility for a jobsite; it was a formative experience.


Since then, helping other young engineers get to have similarly influential experiences has been something that I find incredibly rewarding.


What do you hope the future holds for yourself and for the industry?

One of my mentors used to frequently tell me that if he knew exactly what the future held for him, he’d be doing it that minute. I hold that piece of advice dearly and try not to sweat the details. What really matters to me is that I’m doing something that I find interesting and challenging. I have really high hopes for the future of the tunneling industry, especially given the speed with which technology is advancing. Most importantly, I hope there is a significant rise in familiarity and comfort with utilizing tunneling solutions for the design problems our communities face.


What is your advice to a student looking to enter the underground field?

Get as involved as possible in professional societies, and don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals that you meet. Most people who work in underground infrastructure (in any capacity) are more than willing to talk about their subject areas. I think there is so much potential in our industry for so many different types of people.