By Jess ClarkePatty Leavenworth ’87 started training for her career when she was a child. She sometimes visited job sites with her father, who worked as a civil engineer, and loved to build toy roads in the sand piles he brought to their yard.
Now a civil engineer herself, Leavenworth’s life is still filled with roads and job sites. Since 2013, she has served as the first female chief engineer at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), where she has worked since graduating from Norwich.
Leavenworth has steadily ascended in the male-dominated field of civil engineering.
“When I first started my career in the late 1980s, there were still some old-school ‘You should be home with your kids’ supervisors,” Leavenworth says. “But Norwich taught me a toughness that helped me deal with those early adversities.”
“Some of my best mentors ended up being men.”
Before becoming MassDOT’s chief engineer, Leavenworth served the department as a district highway director for 81 cities and towns in northeastern Massachusetts. In that role, she managed a bridge replacement project in 2011 that drew national attention for its innovativeness and efficiency.
That summer, crews replaced 14 bridges in the city of Medford—one per weekend. For each bridge project, the old bridge was demolished on a Friday night and the new bridge opened to traffic by 5 a.m. the following Monday.
“It remains the most aggressive transportation project of its kind in the nation. I am very proud of the team of engineers that I put together at the district to manage this project. We literally lived this project 24/7 during the summer of 2011,” she says.
In her current role at MassDOT, Leavenworth oversees the design, construction, and management of roads and bridges for an agency that builds more than $1 billion in road, tunnel, and bridge projects each year. She is also creating a comprehensive asset management system for MassDOT.
Leavenworth says she enjoys getting involved in the details of hydraulics and stormwater in the design and engineering phases of projects but also likes construction management and seeing projects being built.
“I really enjoy building and managing the workforce,” says the people-oriented Leavenworth, who earned a master’s degree in civil engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “I like to find new ways to keep employees engaged, streamline business functions, build a sense of pride and accomplishment, and provide opportunities for them to be innovative.”
Leavenworth says her experience at Norwich has contributed to her success in many ways. For starters, she describes her Norwich professors as “absolutely awesome.”
“They were not only knowledgeable, but they were also very caring and deeply dedicated teachers,” she says.
Leavenworth says Norwich also taught her about leadership, what makes a good leader, and perseverance. “I was not the greatest recruit by any means, and NU really helped me step up my game,” she says. “Going through all the trials and tribulations of being a cadet really helped me find my inner strength and learn what fuels my fire.”
As a student, she sometimes chafed at the discipline. Now she’s grateful for it. “I find myself still abiding by some of the habits I learned at NU. I discovered that discipline actually leads to a more balanced life.”
As for other habits, Leavenworth says she follows a chain-of-command table of organization at her agency and still rolls her shirts military-style for packing and storing.
Outside of work, Leavenworth enjoys tae kwon do, cycling, backpacking, gardening, making jewelry—and spending time with her husband and two boys. Her son Gary ‘10 is the fourth consecutive generation Norwich graduate in her family.
“We are very proud of our NU legacy,” she says.