By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Janice Zahn has lived in Bellevue for the past 23 years. In that time period, she’s designed bridges and a floating pontoon as a civil engineer.
A Port of Seattle assistant director of engineering and Bellevue Transportation Commission chair, Zahn, 51, chose a pedestrian-bridge graphic as her logo, above the words “Integrity, Inclusion, Innovation,” for her current campaign to become an elected Bellevue city official.
“When I sat down and I said I wanted to run for city council, we talked about a logo that resonates with who I am as a person and how I would lead,” Zahn said.
She will be one of two people vying for Bellevue City Council, Position 5 this November, finishing out the last two years of Vandana Slatter’s term. Slatter began serving in state government as the representative of the 48th Legislative District last January.
“I find Janice to be incredibly thoughtful in her approach to solving problems. She brings her full self to all she does and puts people first — a servant leader with a heart for community,” Slatter said in her endorsement of Zahn.
In January 1976, Zahn — at age 10 — emigrated from Hong Kong with her family, moving to Federal Way.
“We were sponsored by my uncle versus folks that came to this country with nothing,” she said. “As an immigrant, if you don’t have those folks that can help you acclimate, it can be really difficult, and it can be really scary.”
Her mother is from Kowloon and worked as a nurse in Hong Kong. “When she came to the States, she was not allowed to practice because her nursing credentials did not transfer,” Zahn said.
“My father was actually born in southern China, and he was born in 1935 and fled China in the late 1940s,” she said. His advice to his only daughter: get a good education and speak English “really well.”
“He believed that hard work and education were the way forward to be successful in America.”
Math and science became her favorite subjects and, more importantly, her way forward.
“I went into engineering even though at the time being a girl, it was not necessarily a popular thing,” she said. “When I looked at civil engineering, it’s about building infrastructure for people and that just felt really comfortable to me. Both myself and my two younger brothers are engineers.” Her brothers are mechanical engineers.
In 1988, she received her bachelor’s from the University of Washington (UW) and soon worked as a Weyerhaeuser product development engineer until 1992. That same year, she earned her first master’s in structural engineering and mechanics.
She became a consultant to the Port of Seattle in 2000 and has managed construction for the port for nearly a decade. She oversees the port’s Major Public Works construction with over 50 employees and consultants, and a budget of over $250 million.
“That is the whole piece around how we bring owners, designers, and contractors together to solve problems, make decisions in a timely way, and get the best outcome from the standpoint of projects. I just love that,” Zahn admitted.
Among her many community service activities, she served as a troop leader for the Girl Scouts of Western Washington from 2004 to 2015.
During this time period, she studied at the UW Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance. In 2012, some of her fellow students urged her to run for a position in local government or at least, in local boards and commissions.
“I resisted for about a year because I thought that wasn’t really why I was getting this education,” Zahn said. “But after about a year of looking at different opportunities, I realized it was time for me to give back to my community.”
Later in 2012, she earned her second master’s, an Executive Master of Public Administration.
Zahn said, “I just love learning. I believe that I will be a lifelong learner because I always have this thirst for continuous improvement, whether it’s solving a problem, making a process better, or helping people improve and get better.”
She was selected to be a member of the Bellevue Transportation Commission in 2013 and now serves as its chair.
“Being on an advisory board can still be quite limiting compared to actually being an elected official, where you’re sitting with your group of fellow city councilmembers [and] making decisions that have a tremendous impact on our community,” Zahn said. “So I’ve been thinking about it for probably a little over two years.”
There are three priorities in her campaign: transportation, affordable housing, and diversity.
She has been married to her husband Dwain for 27 years. They have two daughters, Megan, 18, and Leah, 16.
“For me, it’s pretty natural to be someone who tends to bridge the gap between any number of things, whether it’s cultural or education or profession,” she said.
“I very much live the values of helping others succeed, being accountable for good governance and serving the people, being a servant leader, and modeling the way to help people be as successful as possible.”
For more information about Janice Zahn, go to janicezahn.org.
James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.