Meet Featured Member Ann Hansen (by Jenny Hines)
I had prepared several questions, but I really didn’t have to ask them. Our conversation flowed freely as we started with that first question---“How did you end up becoming a nuclear engineer?”
Hearing about Ann’s early years growing up in Kingsport, where neither of her parents worked for Eastman, it was easy to see how and why she pursued her career path. Both of her parents worked for the United States Post Office. Her mother was the first ever woman supervisor, and her father was Chief Accountant. But it was from her father’s second job that Ann found her passion for all things science and her entrepreneurial bent.
Ann’s grandmother ran a bait shop and, as a child, Ann’s first job was counting worms. And as part of this operation, her father expanded the bait business to selling boats and motors. As she trolled on the lake and fished with her dad, they would come across the occasional fisherman with a boat motor that had quit running. Her dad would assist the stranded sportsman and tell him to come to the shop when he needed a new boat or needed the motor fixed again. This form of retail marketing worked very well for Ann’s dad and the business thrived.
Ann’s childhood was in every sense of the word nontraditional. Instead of dolls, she chose chemistry sets, doctor kits and guns for toys. On vacations, unlike other children who identified the various states represented by the license plates they saw, Ann’s game was to add the numbers on the license plates.
After a few years, Ann’s father became the largest Mercury motor dealer for boats in the Atlanta region. It was from her father that Ann learned the true meaning of entrepreneurship and the value of delivering outstanding service.
Ann attended undergraduate school at Florida Southern College where she met the love of her life, Grant Hansen, the son of an Ohio Methodist minister. It was there that she received a B. S. in Math and Physics. (Because of my lunch with Ann, I’ve placed FSC on my top list of places to visit because it is home to the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright structures in the world.) From there she was recruited to pursue a PhD in physics at VPI & SU. However, because of a lack of jobs in nuclear physics, she chose to get a Master’s degree and switch careers to nuclear engineering.
Her career began with the Atomic Energy Commission in Washington working on fast breeder reactors where she was the first female intern. As part of the AEC intern program, the AEC sent her to Carnegie-Mellon University for a second Masters in nuclear engineering. By then, the AEC had decided to open a project office for the Clinch River Breeder Reactor, and Ann transferred to Oak Ridge.
Ann ran a very successful engineering consulting business for many years and is now the Licensing Manager for Asia Products with Energy-Solutions.
All of this work has not kept Ann from having a little fun along the way. She and Grant have enjoyed international travel to some fascinating destinations including Bhutan, Machu Picchu, Russia, Antarctica, Galapagos Islands and they also enjoy rail travel throughout the United States and Canada. They are holding off on traditional European vacations for when they are older and less energetic. Ann is also an avid gardener, reader and rower. In fact, she is a U. S. Rowing Official. And she’s not just a gardener---her specialty is orchids.
I asked Ann if she had any plans for retirement and she looked at me as if I had three heads. “Why would I give up doing something I love?” Currently, she is a licensing manager for getting low level waste containers certified in China as well as approval of water treatment equipment supplied to Chinese nuclear power plants which requires frequent travel to China.
Giving back to the community is something that was encouraged by both of her parents. Her father taught her that those who are blessed with abilities and success should always give back, and she’s made it a point to do that by serving on the boards of her old alma mater, Florida Southern College, Chair of East Tennessee Foundation, facilitator for Leadership Knoxville, and Metropolitan YMCA Past Chair among others.
As we were winding down our lunch and looking at our watches, thinking about the backlog of work on our desks, I asked, “What advice would you offer young women today entering your career?” Her response: “Be articulate in written and spoken word. Be fearless. And work harder than anybody else.”
Ann, who was president of EWA in 1985 and 1986 after becoming a member in 1981, says it was easy to succeed in her field. She says there are very few women in nuclear engineering so men tend to be hypercritical of other men, but listen to and treat her with respect. I suspect that’s because they sense her power. I certainly did.