Amy S. Hess

Amy S. Hess

Special Agent in Charge, Louisville, Kentucky Field Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation

For her service in various key roles within the Federal Bureau of Investigation, from special agent to executive assistant director of the Science and Technology Branch, and for her significant contributions to homeland security and fighting cyberterrorism

Amy Hess’ high hopes for a career, even as a young girl growing up in Jeffersonville, Indiana, had always been “to be an astronaut or an FBI agent.” The inspiration for the latter grew stronger when she toured FBI headquarters during a Washington, D.C. trip with her parents when she was 11 years old.

Her years at Purdue — the “Cradle of Astronauts” — could easily have put Hess on a path to space. Instead, however, she answered a call from the FBI, which was looking for people from the science and engineering fields, and became a special agent. She has worked for the FBI ever since.

During a decade as a special agent in Kansas City and Louisville, Hess tapped into her engineering training from the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “My Purdue education has been very applicable,” she says. “It taught me to critically think through problems and come up with solutions. Additionally, I found that a degree from Purdue brings instant credibility. I’m convinced it helped me to be considered for opportunities that I might have not otherwise had.”

From her first days in the field, Hess has worked on some of the nation’s biggest criminal cases, including a high-profile, drug-related homicide in Kansas City and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. During several leadership positions within the FBI, she has been at the forefront of homeland security and cyberterrorism issues. She’s testified before Congress about the encryption debate on cell phones and about plans for ramping up DNA technology. She has addressed the challenges of cybercrimes that can put perpetrators from the other side of the world directly into a living room laptop on any street in America.

Simply keeping up with the speed of technology can make investigations difficult. Hess, who recently wrote a Wall Street Journal editorial about privacy matters being trumped by heinous crimes, such as the San Bernardino, California, shootings in 2015, says new technology can be particularly challenging. “Even though we have lawful authority to collect evidence, the technology can outpace law enforcement’s capabilities.”

In her former role as one of six executive assistant directors for the FBI, Hess led the Science and Technology Branch and, not surprisingly, encourages a scientific approach to fighting crime. “One of the things I really value about our branch is the way people think,” she says. “Someone comes up with a hypothesis and then tries to discredit the hypothesis by taking a contrary point of view. That’s helpful because it makes you deconstruct the problem by thinking like scientists and engineers.”

After more than a quarter of a century with the FBI, Hess wouldn’t trade her accomplished career for the moon — literally. She’s returned to Purdue on a few occasions, and she always encourages students — technophiles and engineers alike — to consider options seemingly off the traditional career track. “It’s hard for the government to compete with private-sector salaries,” she says. “But we can provide a sense of purpose and mission, such as service to country, they might not find elsewhere.”

Career Highlights

2016-present Special Agent in Charge, Louisville, Kentucky Field Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
2014-2016 Executive Assistant Director, Science and Technology Branch, FBI, Washington, D.C.
2011-2014 Assistant Director, Operational Technology Division, FBI, Quantico, Virginia
2010-2011 Special Agent in Charge, Memphis Field Office, FBI
2009-2010 Section Chief, International Operations Division, FBI
2008-2009 Section Chief, National Security Branch, FBI
2007-2008 Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Phoenix Field Office, FBI
2005-2007 Assistant Inspector/Team Leader, Inspection Division, FBI
2002-2005 Supervisory Special Agent, Louisville Field Office, FBI
1991-2002 Special Agent, FBI