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Navy Reservist Finds Passion in Earthquake Analysis

By: Amanda Dolasinski

Before she became the “Earthquake Doc,” analyzing the most powerful earthshaking phenomenons in the world, Navy Reserve Capt. Jennifer Donahue was making life for deployed troops a little more comfortable — or at least efficient.

She helped construct a bridge across a river to cut down on convoy time. She helped build remote outposts sturdy enough to stand for years. She even helped solve why mosquitoes and rats were hanging around outposts, despite troops’ attention to waste management.

“I’m very passionate about what I do,” said Donahue, pictured. “I just want others to have a passion for where they want to go in their life. I started in the military, then I went into the private sector, and then I went back to college. Keep following your passion, find what you love, keep putting everything into it.”

Donahue commissioned into the Navy in 1996 and served in the Civil Engineer Corps for four years before switching to the reserve component. Since making the change, she’s used her GI Bill to earn a doctorate in the highly specialized geotech earthquake engineering field and continues to serve in the Navy. Today, she owns her own firm, JL Donahue Engineering.

On her first assignment, she was a junior officer leading 19 troops to drill and blast a road in Alaska. It was her first chance to flex her muscles but also be a leader.

Donahue wanted her troops to feel proud of their work, so she changed the way she interacted with them to be more inclusive. She immediately noticed their enthusiasm and desire to take ownership of the project.

“We’re drilling and blasting. There’s rock flying all over the place. It’s very exciting,” she said. “We went through this phase from going to the ‘Hey, go do this,’ as opposed to, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do,’ and all of a sudden, just changing the way that I was interacting with them, we were a lot more efficient and they were excited to go to work every day.”

Following that assignment, Donahue was part of a joint force team that built a floating bridge across the Euphrates River.

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