Jean “Gigi” (Griffith) Hansen ’77 majored in civil engineering at Union College before taking graduate courses in civil/construction management and earning her New Jersey Professional Engineer license. Now a director with Ankura Consulting Group, Gigi works part-time supporting the engagements of several senior managing directors. She is a construction consulting expert in contract dispute resolution and contract risk management, with extensive and diverse forensic analysis experience and direct management of construction for industrial and commercial projects. Gigi is a fellow and life-member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). In June 2019, the N.J. section of ASCE named one of its two scholarships in her honor. She’s also been a member of the N.J. Regional Future City Competition (a middle school STEM/STEAM competition program) Board for over 10 years. An elder of Somerset Presbyterian Church since 1995 and chair of the building and grounds commission for 18 of the past 25 years, Gigi is also a choir member and has taught kindergarten Sunday school.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?
It has always been part of my makeup to be a family-centered person, with a career that stimulates my mind while also giving back to the people and organizations that support me being me. Challenging: Finding “life balance” with the needs of family and work while also giving back to my support system. Having to reach outside of my comfort zone to achieve my commitments. Rewarding: The continual learning and sharing I have experienced through my career and volunteer efforts. Knowing I help others, and myself, through my efforts.
Who inspired/inspires you, both professionally and personally?
Professor and Civil Engineering Department Chair H. Gil Harlow supported me – and others – in being the first women in the CE Department. He never made me feel that being female made any real difference in what I could be and accomplish. His advice to all us students about our duty and responsibilities as engineers still rings true. My Dad, Thomas E. Griffith, supported me in all I wanted to do. He suggested I go into civil engineering. He had studied electrical engineering but never finished college. As a builder and a Realtor into his late 80s, he showed me (and my sisters, too) many real life engineering opportunities. My mom, Mary-Gray Griffith, remains my inspiration, too. She is a classy lady who “stayed home” when my older sister and I were young, yet was a leader at our church and with Girl Scouts. Later, when her life balance allowed it, she owned and managed a very successful Realty office. She loves our home town of Goshen, N.Y., and started a group that saved much of the architectural history of the town. She taught me that I could, at any age, decide at what I wanted to excel. Age and sex has nothing to do with our limitations for setting and accomplishing goals.
What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?
Focus on working with people based on their strengths and weaknesses – not their gender, race or other surface characteristics. Don’t let a (perceived or real) glass ceiling keep you from being yourself. Be honest with, and kind to, yourself and others. Try to figure out what your strengths are and believe in your abilities. Act with your strengths to better yourself and others. Try to figure out what your weaknesses are. Determine if they are worth changing or accept them and move forward. Don’t use them as an excuse. Have a sense of humor and forgive others their faux pas. People can be hurtful without meaning to be. That said, recognize a bad situation and graciously get out. Be it a boss or partner, some personalities will never be beneficial. Work hard in all you do and become your best person. You will constantly be a “work in progress.”
What was your most formative experience at Union?
So many. Working with Allison Donenfeld Nichols on our senior project. Working with the various classmates studying for our exams; the Student Chapter ASCE Canoe Team; Professor Harlow’s contracts class; Professor Snow’s environmental classes; Professor “Zimmi” Zimmerman’s advanced geology class trip to Cape Cod. Professor Harlow “encouraging” me to take my Engineer in Training license exam the fall of my senior year (I passed). But the most formative: With a recommendation from Professor Harlow, I obtained a summer job after my junior year with GE’s Real Estate and Construction Org. group that introduced me to construction management. This set me on my actual career path.