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FHWA Works: Careers in Motion

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Road sign: CAREERS AHEAD

Welcome to the "FHWA Works: Careers in Motion Employee Spotlight" series, a look into the careers and lives of Federal Highway Administration employees. Each month, we will introduce you to one of nearly 3,000 FHWA colleagues and highlight the important work they do. Our employees come from all corners of the agency but all offer the same, yet unique sense of dedication and professionalism, all while keeping America's roads and bridges safe.

Check out whose career is in motion and how #FHWAWorks! Discover exactly why our agency is consistently highly ranked as one of the "Best Places to Work in Federal Government!"

To learn more about how FHWA Works, explore the video series on YouTube or FHWA's LinkedIn page.


FHWA Works: Employee Spotlight - Vontra Giles

Photo of Vontra Giles

Full Name: Vontra Giles
Title: Community Planner
Division/Department: FHWA Alabama Division
Location (City/State): Montgomery, AL

  1. How long have you been in your role and how did you choose this transportation field?

    I have been a Community Planner in the Alabama Division for 3 years.

    I chose to be a Planner because of my background in Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics (S.T.E.A.M.). My undergraduate degree is in Interior Design. During my educational pursuit at the University of Alabama, I fell in love with Engineering, Art, Design, and Architecture.

    Around my sophomore year in college, I began volunteering with a civic organization called The Rural Studio. The Rural Studio partnership between Auburn University and The University of Alabama was created to allow architecture students to partner with local rural communities and build environmentally conscious homes, playgrounds, and businesses. This sparked a burning desire to understand more about how people navigate within and beyond their communities to get to a desirable destination. It also inspired me to earn a graduate degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Alabama A&M University.

    I started as an intern with FHWA's Florida Division in 2015 during graduate school. After my internship was complete, I was selected and placed in the Illinois Division for the Professional Development Program.

  2. What do you find interesting about your job and what do you do on daily basis?

    I think the most interesting part about my job as a planner is experiencing all the details and moving parts from day to day. In the Division office, it's common for a planner to be working on 5 to 7 different projects on a same day.

    Many of the challenges I encounter every day as a planner are a product of organic elements like time-of-year, population growth, fluctuations in the local economy, new or old traffic generators or travel patterns, and weather. I enjoy using analytical skills to solve everyday issues that are simple, but make life as an individual pedestrian, motorist, or cyclist, easier and better.

  3. What has been your biggest accomplishment over the last year?

    Despite the challenges incurred in 2020, I organized, planned, and executed two virtual certification reviews and public meetings. The triennial certification review is one of the biggest responsibilities of a division office planner ensuring each transportation management area (with a population over 200,000) meets an important federal requirement, which requires extreme mental focus and intellectual stamina.

    I observed several reviews in person as an intern, so I had an idea of what my first review would be like. But my first review in April 2020 had to be done virtually, so I had to reassess what I learned.

    I am proud to have quickly adapted to the situation at hand and carved a new path to certify the transportation planning process in Montgomery and Huntsville, AL. I was the first planner in our state to complete this virtual requirement, and I am honored.

  4. Prior to working at FHWA, what was the most unusual or interesting job you've ever had?

    The job I took in college to pay my way through school will haunt my dreams forever. It was in sales and marketing. During the summer, my co-workers and I had to advertise for our start-up company by taking shifts standing on the corner at the busiest downtown intersection dressed as a giant hot dog, our company's mascot. The summers were about 100 degrees in Alabama… it was very interesting. I learned to take the first shift–the costume got very sweaty after about 3 people.

  5. What are your hobbies in your spare time?

    I make quilts. This skill was passed down to me from my great-grandmother. I enjoy spending time in the world of textiles and design. I can spend hours looking at fabrics and materials, and sketching patterns of what each quilt will look like when it's completed. Quilt-making is an extension of who I am–it incorporates a little math, art, and design. Often, I will travel to gain inspiration in an isolated part of nature or a large noisy city. I use my quilts to communicate stories about my life and experiences. I find it offers a tangible, constructive outlet to process parallels of the human experience.

  6. What is one of the biggest lessons you have learned in your career to get you where you are today?

    One of the biggest lessons I've learned in my career is to approach each situation with an open mind.

    Although I signed up for a job with a lot of travel, I didn't realize how sheltered I was before accepting the opportunity to the FHWA's Professional Development Program (PDP). Growing up in Alabama, I collected certain fears about places beyond the south, mainly cultural differences and expectations.

    I was quick to judge my first PDP placement location in Illinois. I didn't think I could be happy living there, even though it was an amazing opportunity. I was afraid and unsure of what to expect: "Can I find places to visit that I was familiar with? Do they have good hot wings? Will my accent sound funny?"

    But before long, I made more good friends than I had in Alabama. I went from wearing a hot dog costume to loving my job. The winter was extreme for me, but I bought a "real coat" as they suggested.

    Now before dismissing an opportunity out of judgement or fear, I welcome those diverse places and people with open arms.

  7. Who do you admire in the transportation field and why?

    I have a mentor in the transportation field who I deeply admire and trust. I admire her because she is practical–firm but flexible, and open-minded, yet unwavering for all the right reasons. I witnessed her journey into leadership in the transportation field while remaining optimistic.

    She was one of the first planners I met during my early stages as an intern when I was not as confident about my future in transportation. She taught me the fundamental elements of what it means to be a great transportation planner through a balance of strategic and constructive goal-oriented development conversations. She brings a unique mixture of education, experience, passion, professionalism, and personality to her job, which has allowed her to thrive during her tenure and excel into leadership.

  8. Complete this sentence: "People would be surprised if they knew..."

    I was a twin.

    Not really, but sort of. My mother's ultrasound displayed twins, but I came into this world as a single. My parents prepared for a double, but were relieved to have a healthy single child. I was able to extensively enjoy all of the early luxuries that would have been shared with a double. It's a twin-win situation.

Other Employee Spotlights

Photo of Morgan L. Kessler Full Name: Morgan L. Kessler
Title: Research Civil Engineer
Division/Department: Research, Development, and Technology–Infrastructure Office
Location (City/State): McLean, VA
Photo of Vontra Giles Full Name: Vontra Giles
Title: Community Planner
Division/Department: FHWA Alabama Division
Location (City/State): Montgomery, AL
Photo of Ana Maria Eigen Full Name: Ana Maria Eigen, D.Sc.
Title: Research Highway Safety Specialist
Division/Department: Office of Safety Research and Development
Location (City/State): McLean, VA

Photo of  Deborah Walker Full Name: Deborah Walker
Title: Research Civil Engineer
Division/Department: Office of Infrastructure Research and Development
Location (City/State): McLean, Virginia

Photo of Carol H. Tan, Ph.D. Full Name: Carol H. Tan, Ph.D.
Title:Team Leader, Safety Data & Analysis
Division/Department: Office of Safety Research and Development
Location: McLean, VA
Photo of David Mensching Full Name: David Mensching, Ph.D., P.E.
Title: Asphalt Materials Research Program Manager
Division/Department: Office of Infrastructure Research and Development
Location (City/State): McLean, VA
Photo of Hoda Azari, PH.D. Full Name: Hoda Azari, PH.D.
Title: Nondestructive Evaluation (NDE) Research Program Manager
Division/Department: Office of Infrastructure Research and Development
Location: McLean, VA
Photo of Jeremy Raw Full Name: Jeremy Raw
Title: Community Planner
Division/Department: Systems Planning and Analysis Team, Office of Planning
Location: Washington, DC
Photo of Stephanie Stoermer Full Name: Joi Singh
Title: Realty Specialist
Division/Department:Office of Real Estate Services
Location: Washington, DC
Photo of Stephanie Stoermer Full Name: Stephanie Stoermer
Title: Environmental Program Specialist/Archaeologist
Division/Department: Environment, Air Quality & Realty Technical Services Team, Resource Center
Photo of Justin Ocel Full Name: Justin Ocel
Title: Civil Engineer
Division/Department: Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center - Office of Infrastructure RD&T
Location: McLean, VA
Photo of MaryAnn Carpenter Full Name: MaryAnn Carpenter
Title: Transportation Specialist/International Liaison
Division/Department: Federal Highway Administration
Location: Washington, DC
Photo of Melinda Urban Full Name: Melinda Urban
Title: Senior Area Engineer
Division/Department: FHWA Colorado Division
Location: Lakewood, CO
Photo of Monica Jurado Full Name: Monica Jurado
Title: Pavements and Materials Engineer
Division/Department: FHWA Resource Center
Location: El Paso, TX
Photo of Al-Hasan Rashida Full Name: Al-Hasan Rashida
Title: Multimedia Specialist
Division/Department: Office of Management Services
Location: Washington, DC
Photo of Neil Gaffney Full Name: Neil Gaffney
Title: Public Affairs Specialist
Division/Department: Office of Public Affairs
Location: Washington, DC
Photo of Susie Tingler Full Name: Susie Tingler
Title: Management Assistant
Division/Department: Director of Field Services
Location: Baltimore, MD
Photo of Christopher Douwes Full Name: Christopher Douwes
Title: Community Planner; commonly known as the Transportation Alternatives and Recreational Trails Program Manager
Division/Department: Office of Human Environment
Location: Washington, DC
Photo of Rebecca T. Crowe Full Name: Rebecca T. Crowe (Becky)
Title: Transportation Specialist
Division/Department: Office of Safety
Location: ADL- Virginia Division; Richmond, VA
Photo of Jihan Kamel Noizet Full Name: Jihan Kamel Noizet
Title: Transportation Specialist
Division/Department: Office of International Programs
Location: Washington, DC
Photo of Todd Kohr Full Name: Todd Kohr
Title: Legislative Analysis Team Leader
Division/Department: Office of Policy and Governmental Affairs
Location: Washington, DC
Photo of Agnes Vélez Full Name: Agnes R. Vélez
Title: Transportation Specialist
Division/Department: Office of International Programs
Location: Washington, DC
Photo of Karen M. Brunelle Full Name: Karen M. Brunelle
Title: Director, Office of Project Development
Division/Department: FHWA, Florida Division
Location (City/State): Tallahassee, FL
Photo of Zachary Haber, Ph.D. Full Name: Zachary Haber, Ph.D.
Title: Research Structural Engineer
Division/Department: Office of Infrastructure Research and Development
Location (City/State): McLean, VA

Photo of  Melonie Barrington Full Name: Melonie Barrington
Title: Training Program Manager
Division/Department: National Highway Institute
Location (City/State): Arlington, VA

Photo of  Gail Edwards Full Name: Gail Edwards
Title: Communications Specialist
Division/Department: Office of Public Affairs
Location: Washington, DC
Photo of Jean Nehme Full Name: Jean Nehme
Title: Team Leader
Division/Department: Office of Research, Technology, and Development
Location (City/State): McLean, VA
Photo of Michelle Arnold, Ph.D. Full Name: Michelle Arnold, Ph.D.
Title: Research Transportation Specialist
Division/Department: Office of Safety, Research & Development
Location (City/State): McLean, VA
Photo of Abdul Zineddin, Ph.D. Full Name: Abdul Zineddin, Ph.D.
Title: Transportation Specialist
Division/Department: Office of Safety R&D
Location: McLean, VA
Photo of Taylor Lochrane Full Name: Taylor Lochrane
Title: Technical Manager
Division/Department: Office of Operation Research and Development
Location: McLean, VA
Photo of Dan Mathis Full Name: Dan Mathis
Title: Division Administrator
Division/Department: Washington Division
Location: Olympia, WA
Photo of Bruce Moody Full Name: Bruce Moody
Title: Program Management Analyst
Division/Department: Oregon and Washington Divisions
Location: Salem, OR
Photo of Joey Hartmann Full Name: Joey Hartmann
Title: Director of the Office of Bridges and Structures
Division/Department: Office of Infrastructure
Location: Washington, DC
Photo of Doug Hecox Full Name: Doug Hecox
Title: Spokesman
Division/Department: Federal Highway Administration
Location: Washington, DC
Photo of Tome White Full Name: Tom White
Title: Social Media Coordinator
Division/Department: Office of Public Affairs
Location: Washington, DC
Photo of Norah Ocel Full Name: Norah M. Ocel, P.E.
Title: Transportation Operations Team Leader/Highway Safety Engineer
Division/Department: Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division
Location: Sterling, Virginia
Photo of LaToya Hines Full Name: LaToya Hines
Title: Staff Assistant to the FHWA Administrator
Division/Department: Office of the Administrator
Location: Washington, DC
Photo of Travis Thomas Full Name: Travis Thomas
Title: Lead IT Specialist
Division/Department: Office of Information Technology Service/Office of Administration (HAD)
Location: Washington, DC
Roger Ryder Full Name: Roger Ryder
Title: Senior Stewardship Advisor/Director of Operations [currently Territorial Program Manager]
Division/Department: FHWA Pennsylvania Division [currently FHWA PR & USVI Division]
Location: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Jennifer Nicks Full Name: Jennifer Nicks, PhD, PE
Title: Research Geotechnical Engineer
Division/Department: Office of Infrastructure Research & Development (R&D)
Location: Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center,
McLean, Virginia
Trinette D. Ballard Full Name: Trinette D. Ballard
Title: Marketing and Communications Specialist
Division/Department: FHWA Florida Division
Location: Tallahassee, Florida
Jaun C. Garcia Full Name: Juan C. Garcia
Title: Multimedia Specialist
Division/Department: Management Services/Office of Administration (HAD)
Location: Washington, DC
Photo of Kirsten Poston Full Name: Kirsten Poston
Title: Disability Policy Analyst
Division/Department: Office of Civil Rights
Location: Washington, DC
Cynthia L. Essenmacher Full Name: Cynthia L. Essenmacher
Title: Federal Tolling Program Manager
Division/Department: Headquarters – Office of Operations
Location: Lansing, Michigan
  U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration - Careers in Motion  
Page last modified on July 13, 2021
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000