Providing Value & Impact: An Interview with SAME President Heather Wishart-Smith

During Virtual JETC in May 2020, Heather Wishart-Smith, P.E., PMP, LEED AP, F.SAME, F.ASCE, was sworn in as the 101st SAME President. A former U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps officer, she is currently Senior Vice President of Technology & Innovation with Jacobs.

Within SAME, she served as Chair of the Young Members Council (2005 to 2007), and was Academy of Fellows Vice Chair for Mentoring (2012 to 2015). From 2015 to 2018, she was a Founding Member of the Investment Committee, and in 2018 was elected a National Vice President before becoming President-Elect in 2019. She is the recipient of the Tudor Medal (2007) and the Gerald C. Brown Mentoring Award (2018).

Bricks & Clicks recently chatted with Wishart-Smith on the priority areas facing SAME today, how the organization has adapted and will continue to change in response to the pandemic, and how she sees the future unfolding in our second century.

Bricks & Clicks: When did you first become an SAME member, and how has your involvement impacted you?

Wishart-Smith: I joined SAME as a young ensign while attending the Civil Engineer Corps Basic Course in Port Hueneme, Calif., almost 25 years ago. It was one of those deals where our instructors told us we could eat lunch in the galley as we usually did or have a nice lunch at the SAME meeting at the Officer’s Club. Oxnard-Ventura Post members sponsored us as junior officers and got us to join right then. I remained a member but an inactive one until leaving the Navy and joining KBR. Linda McKnight, now a Distinguished Fellow, did a wonderful job sponsoring a number of us to get engaged with the Northern Virginia Post and attend JETC. At my first JETC, I learned that the newly formed Young Members Council (what we called it at the time) was looking for vice chairs, and that was the start of what has now been over 20 years of very active membership.

My involvement has impacted me in so many ways: I have learned a lot about the business; I’ve gained leadership and professional skills through my interactions; and I’ve grown a tremendously powerful network. I love the fact that SAME is built for networking—you will never stand in a corner by yourself at an event. It is such an uplifting, positive organization with such amazing people. I feel I can call on such a large number of people in my SAME network and they will come to my aid, because they know I will do the same for them.

Bricks & Clicks: Can you discuss the three Board of Direction initiatives you introduced this year?

Wishart-Smith: These three initiatives I felt were important to bring us into our second century and sustain the momentum we had built leading up to our Centennial.

The first is succession planning. I really wanted to bring to SAME the succession planning I have experienced in the private sector. We stood up a Key Leadership Development Commission (KLDC), led by Col. Matt Altman, F.SAME, USAF, to increase the pool of leadership candidates, help members understand the pipeline and how it fits with their careers, and demystify requirements, expectations, and selection processes. The KLDC is a long-term investment, the value of which will be realized in years to come. I’m really excited about what Matt and the team have done to build a strong future of successful leaders. And while just one example, we had a competitive slate of candidates for Elected Director and National Officer within our published deadline this fall, whereas the past few years have found us extending the deadline to recruit candidates who didn’t initially step forward.

The second priority we have pursued is the Strategic Plan Alignment Initiative, led by Immediate Past President Buddy Barnes, F.SAME. With the 2025 SAME Strategic Plan recently implemented, it is time to review our structure of Posts, Regions, and Communities of Interest (COIs). As an organization, we have had a tendency to take on new interest-areas, but not always assess how they align to a larger plan. As a result, new initiatives and even COIs have at times undercut existing ones by drawing volunteer resources away. I am hopeful this becomes a regular initiative that we undertake to coincide with our strategic plan every five years, prompting us to review our existing structure to ensure it aligns effectively, while also assessing the value and impact of any new initiative before implementing them.

The third initiative we have underway is to better engage Elected Directors. Unlike the rest of the Board of Direction members, who have specific responsibilities related to their roles, Elected Directors represent the general membership. We have wanted to provide more purpose to their role by asking them to make commitment statements, find an area of need they have a passion for, and then invest their time and expertise to deliver value and impact to our Society.

Bricks & Clicks: What has been the most rewarding part of your tenure as SAME President, and what have been the biggest challenges?

Wishart-Smith: The most rewarding part of serving as SAME President has been the positive impact I feel I have been able to have on our long-term success. I’ve been focused on the future while keeping an eye on the past, and I’m really excited by the value and impact we are getting out of the three initiatives I introduced. I am in my sixth year of serving on the Board of Direction within the past 20 years, and I’ve held leadership positions at all levels of the Society through this period as well. I find it highly rewarding to be able to apply my experiences to help secure our future in our second century.

Clearly, 2020 was a year of challenges. This is definitely not the Centennial Celebration we thought we’d have! While we could look at it as a disappointment, I’m choosing to look at it as an opportunity for SAME to adapt and grow. I think there is a lot we are learning about delivering value to members that will last for years to come and make us stronger. I think we were on that path, but 2020 has accelerated it—causing us to pivot from incremental change to disruptive improvement.

Bricks & Clicks: How do you see SAME’s five strategic goals positioning the Society for greater contributions to the nation?

Wishart-Smith: Our Society was founded on strengthening industry-government engagement and it remains the cornerstone of our mission today as Goal 1. Moreover, “IGE” is present in each of the other four goals.

Importantly, our goals complement one another. They offer many options for members, partners, and stakeholders to gravitate to what interests them. Each also contributes to national security through communication, collaboration, resilience, and building a strong future of professionals to serve our nation’s needs.

Bricks & Clicks: How do you feel the Society has managed through the pandemic, and how must we continue to adapt in order to thrive?

Wishart-Smith: I think we have done a remarkable job to continue to provide value to our members. The pivot to Virtual JETC in May was unprecedented and not only did the National Office staff do an amazing job crafting a valuable virtual event, it set the stage for a huge team effort to improve upon it in order to make the Virtual Small Business Conference in November even more impactful as a market research event for government and industry. Many Posts have also shifted well to virtual, and we are hearing from members who are now re-engaging with SAME as a result of the increased accessibility of virtual events.

I think that as we continue in this environment, we will need to be even more vigilant in listening to members and continuing to be relevant, providing value. Something the National Office is researching is platforms that allow for virtual, spontaneous networking—systems that replicate the natural networking that occurs when members bump into one another at meetings, or sit down to lunch as strangers and leave as colleagues and friends. Furthermore, we recognize the benefit of virtual meetings for some members who would not be able to attend in-person, and we are looking to include a virtual component to future national events, making them hybrid engagements in order to appeal to a larger audience.

Bricks & Clicks: Can you talk about why mentoring is so important to you and for SAME in identifying, inspiring, and enabling more engineering professionals for America’s future?

Wishart-Smith: I have been truly blessed with mentors throughout my life and my career, beginning at an early age. These individuals have introduced me to new experiences, taught me new skills, and helped me expand my network. They have pushed me, challenged me, and opened doors for me. I mentor because I want to pay it forward for those who helped me, because I truly care and am interested in those coming behind me, and because I have found great benefit in symbiotic mentoring relationships where I can learn and benefit from my mentees.

As a Society, we have a great opportunity to advance the future of our profession including through the programs sponsored by the SAME Foundation. If you haven’t contributed yet, I highly encourage you to do so ( We need children, students, and young professionals to see those of us in the engineering profession and want to be like us. We need them to see themselves in our shoes. We need to be genuine, authentic, imperfect, and real. Lift as you rise! You are never too early in your career to mentor and lift others.

Bricks & Clicks: Lastly, if you could paint a picture of the Society a decade from now, what would it look like?

Wishart-Smith: I foresee us becoming even more relevant and resilient than we are today. We are very committed to leading collaboration and providing value and impact in so many ways and at every level, whether at our Posts, Communities of Interest, or the Academy of Fellows; with strategic partners and government agencies; through national events, continuing education programs, STEM outreach, or leader development initiatives.

While 2020 forced us to accelerate our change and adapt and grow faster than we planned, I think it has been for the best.