Vanessa Harris, PE

Vanessa Harris, PE, is a licensed civil engineer and artist with multiple disabilities. Harris received an MS in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign, and a BA in Chemistry from Grinnell College. Amid a 46-year engineering career, winning multiple awards in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics, Vanessa took a documentary class at Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago. It changed the trajectory of her life—leading her to establish Strategy for Access, which has since produced more than 180 videos celebrating and informing Chicago’s vast disability community. A problem-solver by profession and experience, Vanessa now focuses on solving issues as diverse as buying an accessible car as a wheelchair user.

Her most recent project was the production of 16 short subjects in a series called Accessible Chicago, which she created to ensure that Chicago became internationally known as a disability-friendly city. She covers each subject clearly with her unique sense of humor, helping to empower those with disabilities and giving them a platform to share their experiences, wisdom, and perspectives.

Crain’s Chicago Business has recognized Vanessa as a Notable Black Leader and Executive. She is on the grantmaking panels for Illinois Humanities and the Resist Foundation. In 2023, The Field Foundation, in partnership with The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, gave Vanessa Harris the Leaders for a New Chicago award.

DisabilityLead Chicago Fellow, Chicago Community Trust
Science Technology Engineering Arts Mathematics Superstar Award from the Global
Leadership Forum
Ambassador, Abilities Expo
Graduate Engineering Minorities (GEM) Fellow
Outstanding Employee Award, CDM Smith
Quality Award, AECOM; Project Excellence Award, AECOM
Environmental Health & Safety Vice President’s Award, BP; CEO’s Award, BP