Ashley Farless ’94 wasn’t asked to write this alumni profile. But she thanks Baylor almost daily for instilling the skills she would need had she been called upon to do so.
“I was more prepared for an engineering curriculum than my peers,” said Farless, who earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Auburn. “I was prepared in all ways – math, science, and in my foundation in English and writing skills.” Farless particularly remembers AP English with Sue Gawrys and English class with the late Dr. Bob Lanza. “I had a strong background in math and science coming from Baylor, and they [Gawrys and Lanza] helped refine my writing skills. Liberal arts courses are not the focus when you’re in an engineering curriculum, so it’s the writing and communication skills I learned at Baylor that gave me an advantage in an engineering career. I am often complimented on that component of my work.”
But engineering was only a prerequisite to the focus of Farless’ career. In addition to the P.E. (professional engineer) initials after her name is the acronym AICP, or American Institute of Certified Planners; Farless’s specialty is environmental planning. The marriage of civil engineering, which involves the design and construction of public works projects, and environmental planning appeals to Farless. “My area of environmental planning is related to large-scale transportation projects,” she explains. “Anytime a government agency wants to embark on a project using federal funds, the law requires that an environmental investigation is done to determine the impact on the natural, social, and economic environment. I manage and perform those investigations and determine the level of environmental impact for that project.”
Farless discovered her interest in environmental planning while working on transportation projects for Neel-Schaffer Inc., a consulting firm in Birmingham, Ala. after graduation. “I understand the technical aspects of a design project, and in a world of numbers, I can communicate effectively. If you can’t, nobody can understand what you’re doing.”
In 2005, Farless was approached about a position in the Chattanooga office of ARCADIS, the international company offering consultancy, design, engineering, and management services for which she has worked for six years. ARCADIS’s focus is to enhance mobility, sustainability and quality of life by creating balance in the built and natural environment. She was attracted to the ARCADIS opportunity because its focus would be on environmental planning. “Planning is relevant to the environment, relevant to people and how they live, how they interact, and it’s a very big-picture way to be involved in engineering projects. Most engineers are designing a specific aspect of a project; I’m able to zoom out and look at the whole picture, looking at the impact to the area and society in general.” To that end, Farless hosts public involvement meetings and is involved with public relations as well as engineering. On the day she was interviewed for this article, she was in Nashville promoting a public hearing regarding a new transportation project. As an out-of-towner interviewing for a position at ARCADIS, Farless was asked,
“Are you familiar with Chattanooga?” While she grew up in the city, Farless has now gotten to know it in a different way as an adult. Continuing her community service habit from her Chi Omega days at Auburn and in Birmingham, where she was active with the Big Brothers-Big Sisters program, Farless serves on the Board of Trustees of the Junior League of Chattanooga. In addition, she is a committee member for Friends of Memorial, which helps raise funds for Memorial Hospital, and for several years, she has been a math tutor for both day and boarding students at Baylor.
Farless also planned the 15-year reunion for Baylor’s Class of 1994. “Since I moved back to Chattanooga, I’ve gotten to be close with people from my class with whom I wasn’t as close in high school. You always have that Baylor connection. That happened to me in Birmingham too,” she said. “Our class had a great time at our 15-year reunion and at our 10-year reunion. You hear about people who don’t care about their high school reunion; you would be hard-pressed to find a Baylor alum who feels that way.”
Farless, whose family was originally from Florida and moved to Chattanooga when she was an infant, was the first in her family to attend Baylor. She was followed by her sister, Laura Farless MacGregor ’97, now a physician in Birmingham. Reflecting on her parents’ choice of Baylor for their daughters, Farless notes, “At the time, they knew they were making an important decision for our future, but I don’t know if they realized that it was truly one of the most important lifetime decisions they would make for us. Baylor is so much more than college preparation. The benefits are immeasurable. When you are an alum in Chattanooga, or anywhere for that matter, you can be very proud that you went to Baylor.”