Board member spotlight – Elizabeth Clarke

Creating Structure: A Journey of Lifelong Learning, Growth, and Leadership
By: Elizabeth Clarke, Founder & President (Structure Groups)

I had the best time as a kid growing up. My childhood was brimming with music and activities that ignited my curiosity, made possible by the unwavering support of my parents. I played tennis and got involved in choir, as well as learned to play the piano and guitar. My parents were my best friends and always encouraged me to get out there and do things that were different.

When I was 13, my father signed me up to work with a Youth Service Corps in Fremont, California, where we lived. During my three years with the organization, we embarked on a mission to restore the lakes and levees in the area, painted over graffiti, and helped repair the natural habitat for Lake Elizabeth in Central Park. It was an amazing experience.

I love singing and even once sang on Star Search for three matches. I also sang the national anthem at an Oakland A’s Major League Baseball game, and I always wished I would win a Grammy! You can see that didn’t happen… BUT, I did sing the national anthem for a GBA Fall Conference in Denver and that was such an honor!

As a young adult, I wrestled with the task of deciding my future path. I considered being a park ranger, joining the Navy, or being an eighth-grade history teacher. However, I struggled to find myself in any of those roles and started working for the police department on the midnight shift while going to college during the day. I LOVED IT. I worked in the various divisions and even earned a POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) Certificate from the police academy.

Finally, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Administration of Justice and a part-time teaching credential for secondary schools (CAD/Design Drafting) while still working in law enforcement.  After a decade  in the field , I decided it was an extremely stressful role to continue and I started seeking other opportunities.

I worked for BSK Associates two different times for a total of more than 18 years, where I gained a comprehensive understanding of the different facets of the industry. I started as a dispatcher, went into marketing, learned the materials side of the lab (concrete/masonry/rebar), learned the field (anchors/piers/concrete batch plant and sampling), took over the radiation safety for multiple branches, and eventually earned a promotion to branch manager.

In between my two stints at BSK, I left to work for Consolidated Engineering (now Atlas Technical Consultants), and Testing Engineers Inc. Leaving BSK for those two years gave me a new perspective of what else was out there—what other firms were doing and how they were growing. Time away from my familiar surroundings provided me with fresh perspectives and exposed me to different approaches and practices within the industry.

Each experience broadened my skill set and enriched my understanding of the field. I learned so much working for them and the opportunities that they provided me made me a better geoprofessional.

I always continued to embrace new opportunities for development in my pursuit of knowledge. I was in FOPP (Fundamentals of Professional Practice) Class 18 and also the ACEC Business of Design Consulting while taking classes at the local junior college learning to read plans.

Armed with the knowledge and experiences garnered throughout more than 22 years in the industry, I decided to take the leap to start my own civil engineering firm—Structure Groups.

I made a lot of mistakes in the way I left, and I own that. But I have taken what I’ve learned from those mistakes and used them as stepping stones to help grow not only my firm but who I am today.

As the owner and CEO of Structure Groups, I oversee the day-to-day operations, manage administrative staff, and delve into project management. However, my favorite aspect of the job is nurturing relationships and mentoring the talented individuals who make up our team.

We are a small, woman-owned civil engineering firm with 18 employees. We provide construction observations, materials testing, soils foundations, forensics, third-party inspections (wood and firestopping), DSA/HCAI Project Inspection (Inspector of Records), and Caltrans (California Department of Transportation soils/aggregate/asphalt/concrete).

My husband Mike is also my partner in the firm. We have two adult sons, a teenage grandson, and another grandchild on the way! We live on a golf course in Discovery Bay, which sits on the edge of the Sacramento Delta, where we enjoy boating, fishing, and just hanging out.

So much of what I have learned over the years from the many firms I have worked for – and the new firms that welcomed me into partnerships – have made Structure Groups what it is today.

My advice to those looking to enter and grow in the geoprofessional field is to remember that YOU ARE A PROFESSIONAL in ANY role you play. There are so many more opportunities now and so many new innovative and exciting ways to perform your job within our communities. Step up and step into the challenge to make a difference and to be heard.

The hardest thing to learn about being a leader is that you need to surround yourself with other people who do better than you and who are more successful than you are. Do not be afraid to embrace that you need these amazing folks on your teams. When you surround yourself with individuals who excel, they will help build the firm and lead you to success.

I am excited for what the future holds not only for Structure Groups, but for myself within GBA. I am honored to be on the Board and working as the liaison for the technical committees (Geotechnical,         Environmental, Constructure, Elevate Geoprofessional Value) and hope that – through my commitment to the industry’s advancement and aspirations for future growth – I can bring some added value to the team moving forward.