INDIANAPOLIS — When young, ambitious Jennifer Pyrz thought about her future and the adventures she longed to have in her career, being a civil engineer wasn’t the first thing that came to mind, and certainly leading one of Indiana’s largest transportation projects wasn’t even on the list. But, Pyrz is doing just that as she leads IndyGo’s Purple Line, one of the nation’s largest all-electric Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines.
Dialing back to Pyrz’ sophomore year in high school while growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, she said adventure looked more like being an aeronautical engineer. She wanted to go to space! Then, she remembers the day she was handed a flyer to attend a weeklong camp for women in engineering at the University of Notre Dame. That’s when her plans started to change. Over the years, Pyrz got a taste of many engineering fields, and after struggling with the intricacies of thermodynamics early on in her professional journey, she decided space was not her final frontier.
There are many paths engineers can take throughout their careers, but Pyrz chose the one that made sense to her while also offering a challenge – civil engineering. She liked the challenge of making decisions that aren’t always so black and white.
“It’s our job as engineers to understand the community that we’re working in and what they want, because it’s not about what we want,” Pyrz said. “It’s more about what the community is trying to achieve. When we can really understand that, we can make the best engineering choices.”
It’s not lost on Pyrz that she’s a woman operating in a male-dominated field, but it’s another challenge she embraces.
“The fact that women had to break out of their comfort zones to even be engineers has forced us to develop more of a competitive edge and show a more assertive attitude,” Pyrz said.
Although she didn’t realize it until later in her career, assertiveness was no problem for her.
“If nobody takes the lead, I’m going to jump in and take the lead,” she said. “As a woman, you certainly can’t be afraid to speak up. You won’t get very far if you don’t because you’re not often asked for your opinion. You just have to jump in and state it.”
Pyrz got her undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering at Purdue University, where she says the engineering department had a relatively high number of women enrolled in the field of study at the time.
When she first entered the workforce, she worked for a smaller firm made up of all male engineers, but hardly even noticed the imbalance until she moved on to larger companies, where she had an opportunity to work more frequently with women, both as peers and as leaders.
“I’ve always been very lucky and had very supportive bosses,” she said.
Over the years, Pyrz has worked on jobs such as the Bloomington Transit Center, I-69 Section 6, U.S. Highway 31 Hamilton County and on projects where she helped identify infrastructure that allowed students to safely bike or walk to school or work. (See photos below.) The projects she’s enjoyed most over her career have been transit-related. Early childhood experiences like riding the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in San Francisco with her grandmother and going on the monorail at Disney World fueled her passion.
Two of her past employers, WSP Global Inc. and HNTB Corporation, are where she began her journey with IndyGo. She quickly gained familiarity with the Red Line project as she contributed to its alternatives analysis and played a part in construction management. Now, Pyrz is the Chief Development Officer and Vice President of Infrastructure, Strategy and Innovation at IndyGo. With the help of her team, she oversees all day-to-day planning, design and construction at IndyGo, which includes the much-anticipated Purple Line.
Pyrz is the team’s problem solver, facilitator and resource-finder for all things Purple Line. She makes sure everyone has what they need to excel at their individual role by offering guidance as needed, in addition to helping navigate the more challenging issues.
“There are so many people ‘leading’ on this team, all of whom are stepping up to make sure we give the community the best BRT route possible,” she said. “Sure, in the end, I am responsible to our CEO, and I bring certain important skills to the job. But I am also very aware that there are dozens of others on this team whose own unique skills are critical to our success.”
Pyrz said she’s excited to shape the city with the work they’re doing, and she really enjoys being a part of the big decisions that are made. However, she said the flip side is that decisions that have huge, positive impacts on the community inevitably have downsides too, and those take time to consider and think through.
“I feel the weight of that sometimes, but I’m thankful to have all the people around me to help evaluate all angles,” she said. “Everybody internally, the executive team, Inez, our staff, but then also all the consultants that provide support and advice. They’re all coming at the problem from different directions and points of view. It’s really reassuring to me to know I have all this support.”
“I hope the project is something Indianapolis will be proud of,” Pyrz said. “And something that will improve peoples’ lives — even if just in small ways — such as having a safe sidewalk, an accessible path, a faster or more reliable way to get to work.”
In her free time, Pyrz is on the board of Midtown Indy, a community services organization committed to positively impacting the quality of life and economic vitality of the collective neighborhoods of Midtown Indianapolis. She’s also on the Women’s Transportation Seminar advisory board, where she helped start the Indianapolis chapter and advises current board members.
Pyrz is married and has three teenage children. She loves to read, travel and has season tickets to watch the Cubs play. (See photos below.)
(Pyrz from her college summer internship)
(One of the Walk to School Day events Pyrz organized for her kids’ school, St. Thomas Aquinas)
(The Pyrz family)