In Haiti, Dream Big introduces us to Avery Bang, a remarkable young woman who upends the usual picture of what an engineer looks like and reveals a whole new side of who an engineer might be–someone not only smart and practical, but daring and idealistic. Bang loves to travel, loves to watch communities gaining new skills, loves making a difference.
The daughter of a civil engineer in Iowa, Bang feels she was fortunate to get a sense at a very young age of engineering’s impact on the world around us. “I remember as a kid, we would visit public works projects as parts of our family holidays,” Avery laughs. “It definitely gave me a different view of engineering from the start. Because of my dad, I think I saw early on that there can be a real heroic element to engineering.”
Still, Avery didn’t know for sure what she wanted to do with her life and the eureka moment of how to meaningfully give back only hit her when she started studying abroad on the island of Fiji. “One of the communities had recently opened footbridge development project, and I was able to see first-hand how a simple bridge was transforming their everyday world. People could get to the doctor, to schools, and to markets they could never have reached before. I directly experienced how structures change people’s lives. That’s when I really started taking engineering seriously–it became both a passion and a purpose for me.”
Avery returned to the University of Iowa, and founded Bridges to Prosperity’s University Program, while still an undergraduate student. Avery later received her Masters degree in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder. There, her graduate research was conducted with National Engineering Academy member Bernard Amadei, which considered designs for rural low-tech applications, where she also later lectured in the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities.
Today, Avery serves as President and CEO of Bridges to Prosperity (B2P), a nonprofit social enterprise providing isolated communities with access to essential health care, education and economic opportunities by building footbridges over impassable rivers. Reaching nearly one million people around the world, B2P has partnered with national and regional governments to develop their rural transportation networks and connect their most isolated citizens to the resources they need the most.
Avery has spoken at conferences around the world. She has garnered an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Clarkson University and Distinguished Alumni awards from both the University of Iowa and the University of Colorado. She has also been recognized as an Engineering News Record (ENR) Top 25 Newsmaker, a Top 20 Under 40 by ENR Mountain Region and was one of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Top 10 New Faces Under 30 in 2011. Avery is currently attending an MBA program at Oxford University in the U.K.