From Race Cars to Industrial Ventilators, One Engineer’s Ride to Engineer of the Year

Mar 9, 2018 | Engineering

Max Frey, PDC Engineers

Fire Protection Engineer, Christine Ness, PE, accepting the 2017 Engineer of the Year award at annual National Engineers Week banquet on February 24, 2018 in Anchorage, Alaska.
Image courtesy of PDC Engineers

Sitting in her office talking across a well-kept but certainly busy desk surrounded by plants that grew voraciously in the ample sunlight coming through the window, Christine described some of her most memorable work.

“Taking joy in things like that are the kinds of moments that make you feel comfortable in your chosen path,” she said, referring to one of her earliest engineering projects she took on as an undergraduate. The experience she had proudly been describing was the Mini-Baja senior design project at Bradley University. During the race, the vehicle her team designed and built had taken a nose dive, but due to its Kevlar-reinforced nose cone, it survived and went on to complete the race – even placing competitively.

Christine Ness’ position on the Mini-Baja project was on the brake team. Little known to her at the time, this first experience in managing the design and creation of such crucial safety equipment would become her calling. Fast forward twenty-three years and she now specializes in life safety and fire protection services at PDC Engineers in Anchorage, Alaska. Preferring to stay out of the spotlight with her work, she said, “I’m not looking for credit, I’m just happy when the whole thing goes off without a hitch.”

Much to her surprise and good-hearted chagrin, she was unable to escape the attention she normally tries to avoid this past February when she was selected as Alaska Engineering Societies’ Engineer of the Year.

Officially nominated by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), Christine noted the president of the local Alaska chapter and other colleagues had pushed for her nomination. When asked what the nomination meant to her she said, “It’s humbling, very humbling. I was chosen from seven other nominees who constantly amaze me by what they do and accomplish.”

To be selected as a candidate for the Engineer of the Year award, an engineer must demonstrate significant historical and current project work, contributions to professional societies and communities, broader community involvement, as well as meeting other criteria. In a group of strong nominees, Christine easily checked every box and was able to rise above the rest.

Her work has taken her all over the country, as well as overseas, with some projects even in Antarctica. Her favorite experiences have been working for the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Homeland Security.

A dedicated professional, she has spent time on-site from sweltering Florida rooftops in August to inspect new condo high-rise ventilation systems to laboratories where she was charged with stress-testing products by setting them on fire to determine their effectiveness at handling blazes.

She said, “What I do and have done contributes to a positive environment, a safe environment. Overall, what I have touched has been improved and safeguarded, on some level. That is what’s satisfying to me.”

Outside of her professional life, Christine enjoys volunteering at Girl Scouts, using herself as an example of what a STEM education focus can produce.

Of her time at PDC and recently becoming an associate, she explained that she now calls the firm home. After a 23-year career that’s taken her around the world, she’s ready to settle down and make Alaska and PDC her permanent choice.

She likens her current work to her time in high school drama club, in which she was the stage and property master. “I supported the full production and if it ran smoothly, people would never see you but regardless, you’re back there the whole time and you’re taking care of your people.”

Looking forward to passing the torch to next year’s Engineer of the Year awardee, Christine encourages any and all with questions or comments about it to contact her for more information.

To learn more about Christine Ness, visit

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