©2023 STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS FOUNDATION OF WASHINGTON | A 501(c)(3) ORGANIZATION
The SEAW Scholarship Program has awarded $205,500 to 79 students since 1985. As a 501c3 nonprofit, SEFW has funded the SEAW Scholarship Program since 2012, using tax-deductible donated funds to award between $10,000 and $15,000 annually to students selected by the SEAW Scholarship Committee.
SEAW scholarship winners have gone on to become professional engineers, university professors, SEAW leaders, award winners, and more. Student recipients have studied at local schools like UW, WSU, Seattle U, and Gonzaga, as well as other impressive schools like Stanford, Cal Berkeley, and Oregon State.
In 2020, SEFW reached out to several past scholarship winners to learn more about their stories. We hope you enjoy getting to know some of them as we much as we did.
Siri Ashworth, from Spokane, was destined to be in the building industry. Her family owned a construction company, and she started operating equipment and laying pipe for municipal, highway, and commercial projects at 14. After graduating high school, test-driving several career choices (business, sales), attending several colleges (WSU, Spokane Community College), getting married, and having her first child, she finally settled on what felt like returning to her roots: studying civil engineering at Gonzaga University.
All in all, Siri spent more than 6 years finishing the program, juggling parenthood, daycare, part-time work, and an academic load that gravitated toward structural engineering classes. She was awarded an SEAW Scholarship in 2007, just after graduating (cum laude!) and having her second child.
"It was a big surprise to receive the award, and I was quite honored being one of the people selected,” Siri says. “It was really helpful because I had just got out of school and had a young family, including an infant."
There was a time when she questioned if she’d be able to manage all the demands of school, but ultimately, she says, “I wouldn’t change anything. Looking back on it, I worked out the way it was supposed to. If it hadn’t happened that way, I wouldn’t be where I am."
After graduation, Siri joined Coffman Engineers in Spokane, continuing with the firm for 13 years and ultimately serving as a Senior Project Manager. She now manages the structural group of the Spokane office of KPFF Consulting Engineers, where as a P.E., S.E., she continues to enjoy building a career that has included projects spanning all sorts of market types, like multifamily, healthcare, government/military, education, and commercial.
“I always enjoyed working in construction, and so for me this is a great fit, “Siri says. “I really enjoy working with contractors and have an appreciation with where they’re coming from, being on the other side of the drawings. I love working on design/build projects and working closely with contractors. You end up with great solutions when you bring all those perspectives to the table.”
In her career, Siri has actively participated with professional organizations, such as WABO, DBIA, SAME, WSSHE, and SEAW. She started as the Vice President of the Spokane Chapter of SEAW and continued in leadership until she served as President of the State SEAW Board of Trustees from 2018-2019. She has also served on the SEAW Scholarship Committee for more years than she can remember!
“One of the things I like best about participating in SEAW is that in my experience, everyone works for separate firms and we put that aside in this venue,” she says. “I know there are a dozen engineers I could call on at any time. It’s about what is best for the industry, it’s about what we're doing and getting kids excited about the profession, providing education and mentoring for younger engineers. It’s a place we can all come together on that common ground and help one another in the engineering.”
Nathan Canney, from Moscow, Idaho, had already earned his bachelor's degree from Seattle University and had worked at Magnusson Klemencic Associates for several years before deciding to pursue a master’s degree and receiving the SEAW Scholarship in 2009. Between studies at Stanford University and University of Colorado at Boulder, he finished his academic journey with a master’s in structures, a Ph.D. in civil engineering, and his P.E. Nathan found himself particularly interested in an engineer’s attitude of social responsibility, and he turned his career to a more educational aspect.
“I remember my ‘aha’ moment. Transitioning into academics meant I could help the world understand structural engineers and train structural engineers more broadly,” Nathan says. “The technical is a piece of what we do, but we also have a critical impact on communities. With training and knowledge comes responsibility to consider who is benefiting from the work we do and who is being left out.”
Over the next few years, Nathan traveled to Haiti twice to offer service after the earthquake. He taught for four years at Seattle University, where he created several new courses, helped create their master's in structural engineering program, and did NSF-funded research on engineering design and ethics. His favorite part of his time at Seattle U was facilitating service learning in his coursework, getting his students to design and build play structures for Seattle-area families in need. One particularly memorable family had a child fighting for her life at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Creating a playspace for them was particularly rewarding – and strongly illustrated how structural engineers have a unique ability to improve individual lives through purposeful design.
“To have my students show up on build day, the day after graduation, completely voluntary,” was very inspiring, Nathan said. “We had 100 percent participation and the students were invested. It really showed how structural engineering is used in so many ways.”
Nathan (third from right), the group from Seattle U, and their play structure
Eventually Nathan relocated to California to be closer to family, and he currently works for a structural engineering firm doing ASCE 41 evaluations and seismic retrofit projects. He still gets to research and right now is working on several studies for publication, covering topics like mental health in engineering faculty, school-to-work transition, and value disparity between structural engineers and their corporate employers. With more than 60 peer-reviewed publications to his name, Nathan certainly continues to have stories to tell.
In reflecting back on his award from SEAW, Nathan says, “At the time, I was self-funded and panicking, just trying to scrape together funds. This award was really critical for me to be able to stay in school,” and finish what he started.
Kevin Solberg grew up in Olympia and had just earned his BSCE from the University of Washington when he received the SEAW Scholarship in 2005. He ventured to the University of Canterbury in New Zealand for his master’s degree, but knew he would eventually end up back in Western Washington. He had an internship at Magnusson Klemencic Associates before heading to New Zealand (which holds the record for the longest "summer" internship because it lasted until January!), and joined the firm after graduating. He is still there 13 years later, now as a Senior Associate and project manager.
“I remember being so excited to receive the scholarship,” Kevin said. “We had just moved to New Zealand and money was really tight.” His time in New Zealand, although before the two Christchurch earthquakes, focused on earthquake engineering research and allowed him to really focus on his thesis. He authored or co-authored several peer-reviewed published articles, and his thesis, “Rapid Loss Estimation Strategies for Buildings and Bridges,” identified resiliency concepts similar to those explored in the industry today.
Now a P.E. and S.E., Kevin primarily works on healthcare projects in Oregon and Washington. His favorite projects have included Overlake Hospital in Bellevue and the University of Washington Medical Center Bed Tower Expansion in Seattle. “The thing about medical projects is that there is a lot of interaction between older buildings and newer buildings,” he says. “There are a lot of intricacies in integrating the campus. It’s a fun challenge.”
Not only has Kevin been able to give back to the community by designing public health projects, Kevin has personally been able to give back by participating in SEAW through the years. He has served as a director for the Seattle Chapter and for the last 5 years, he has served as the Chair of the SEAW Scholarship Committee, helping select the next generation of structural engineering scholarship winners.
He appreciates being able to recognize and reward the students who have caught the vision of structural engineering and show an impressive character and enthusiasm that is all too familiar.
“I almost went into computer science,” Kevin says. “I did well in all those classes as an undergrad, but ultimately I decided it was too abstract. I wanted to be involved in something real that I could see and touch. Structural engineering is a well-respected profession and had a good mix of boots on the ground engineering and all the math and science stuff with the office work.”
Postscript 2021: Since this article was written, Kevin has transitioned positions and now works at the City of Seattle.
Hillary Tervet, from Federal Way, started out as a math major at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, until she took an elective class on growth and structure of cities, which explored architecture and urban planning. Her interest was piqued and she wondered if there was a way to incorporate math with these subjects -- until one of her advisors suggested civil engineering. From her earliest classes in water resource management and transportation, she was in. She transferred to Seattle University and earned a bachelor's in civil engineering and a master's in structural engineering. She was awarded the SEAW Scholarship just before beginning her master’s program in 2015.
“Applying for the scholarship helped me understand why I wanted to go into structural engineering and put into words and reflect on what I wanted to get out of it,” Hillary says. “I really enjoy the challenge of structural engineering. There is a lot of analysis and it’s fun to know I’m going to work on things that thousands of people will be using every day, things I’ll see out in the community and that I will get to use as well.”
In the five years since receiving the scholarship, Hillary has jumped into the local design scene with full force. She had two internships in transportation engineering with King County Metro and Sound Transit, and after graduate school she interned at Bright Engineering doing structural design. After graduation she worked at Armour Unsderfer Engineering and now works for Jacobs on their structural transportation team, working primarily on the Lynnwood and Redmond Link light rail stations.
She says it has been very rewarding for her to career to work for small firms (less than 25 people) and now for a large firm (more than 50,000 people worldwide).
Now several years into her career, Hillary discovered she was eager to be more involved with local career-driven organizations that inspire engineers of the future. She first became involved with the local ASCE chapter, serving as the younger member liaison to Seattle University. She has been able to serve on the committee to run the annual Popsicle Stick Bridge Competition for high school students, of which SEFW has been a repeat sponsor.
Hillary also got involved with WTS Puget Sound (Women’s Transportation Seminar) for their “Transportation YOU” program, where they present bridge fundamentals to local high school students and then work with them to build gumdrop and toothpick bridges during their lunch hour. The group engaged students at Stadium High School in Tacoma, Sammamish High School in Bellevue, and Franklin High School in Seattle.
Not only that, she is involved in the Women’s Employee Network at Jacobs, and is also the university liaison for the firm, recruiting at universities all over Washington.
For now, Hillary is enjoying her volunteer and project experiences, and is working on earning her P.E. She is grateful for the SEAW Scholarship, which helped her immensely just five years ago.