A look at the people behind the numbers in area business:


Title: Senior geologist

Age: 63

Jane Willard will apply various skills -- solving puzzles, doing historical research and conducting environmental assessments -- in her new role as senior geologist at American Engineering Testing (AET).

She joined AET after the St. Paul company acquired her boutique environmental consulting firm EnPro, which she founded in 1988.

Willard brings experience in environmental assessment of commercial real estate, while AET's focus has been industrial property. Employee-owned AET, with offices in eight states, assists public and private sector clients with environmental, design, construction and restoration projects. Much of the work involves looking into the history of a site to learn about companies that occupied it and their activities there, said Willard, who has managed more than 3,500 environmental assessments since 1985.

Willard's expertise reflects her diverse educational background: A master's in geology from the University of Kansas, a master's in education from Buffalo State University in New York and a bachelor's degree in English from Carleton College. She said she switched to English after she and other women majoring in geology in the 1960s were told "girls" would never be hired in that field.

After serving in the Teacher Corps in New York and the Peace Corps in Afghanistan, Willard was recruited to the University of Kansas' graduate program in geology while visiting that campus.

QWhat compelled you to study geology even after being told you'd never work in the field?

ADoing geology, and in particular environmental geology, is puzzle solving. If you like to do puzzles of any kind, jigsaw puzzles or Sudoku, that's kind of what geology is all about. You have little bits of information and you're putting it together to create an answer to the puzzle.

QWhat are some of your goals at AET?

AOne is to solve bigger and better puzzles. The other one is to determine what doesn't go overboard in providing an answer for the clients and for the regulatory agency. It's always learning to tread that fine line where you're not overdoing things but you're able to answer all the questions.

QEngineering is a family affair for you?

AMy husband (former environmental consultant Mick Jost) and I met as competitors working on the same project and ended up working on a series of projects as competitors. I think that definitely influenced our younger daughter (Saura Jost, a structural engineer). We do have a maverick older daughter who is a social worker.