Amy Hess’ career aspirations, even as a young girl growing up in Jeffersonville, Indiana, had been “to be an astronaut or an FBI agent.” The inspiration for the latter grew stronger when she toured FBI headquarters on a trip with her parents when she was 11 years old.
In 1989, Hess earned her BS from Purdue's School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which could easily have put her on a path to space. Instead, she answered a call from the FBI, which was looking for people from the science and engineering fields.
So, she became a special agent, a nontraditional calling for a Purdue engineer. During a decade as a special agent in Kansas City and Louisville, Hess tapped into her engineering training. “My Purdue education has been very applicable,” she says. “It taught me to think through problems critically 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 not have otherwise had.”
From her first days in the field, Hess has worked on some of the nation’s biggest criminal cases, including 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 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. It is no surprise that Hess was named as a Distinguished Engineering Alumna in 2017.
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 several occasions, and she always encourages students — in both engineering and technology majors — 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.”
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