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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-20-003    Date:  Spring 2020
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-20-003
Issue No: Vol. 84 No. 1
Date: Spring 2020

 

Expanding the Role of Women in Transportation Professions

by Amy Jackson-Grove

Connecticut's WTS chapter offers professional guidance and opportunities for women to pursue careers in transportation.

How does the transportation industry attract women to careers in its sector? The Women's Transportation Seminar (WTS) aims to provide answers. An international organization dedicated to building the future of transportation through global advancement of women, WTS boasts a network of more than 6,500 members (women and men), 79 chapters around the world and outreach to 40,000 transportation professionals. Begun in 1977 and based in Washington, DC, WTS provides professional development through mentorship, networking, lectures, and chapter events.

Each WTS chapter is unique. The WTS Connecticut Valley Chapter, now known as WTS-Connecticut (WTS-CT), was formed in 1992. In Connecticut, the chapter created its niche with programs that draw women and men to work together for the benefit of underrepresented female transportation professionals. Providing work opportunities, encouragement, and recognition to support women's advancement in transportation careers constitutes the chapter's long-standing mission.

"Women have gained a small foothold in transportation vocations in Connecticut," says Bonnie Damato-Torres, president of the WTS-CT Board of Directors. "Volunteer chapter leaders and members have successfully initiated several key transportation education projects."

Primary programs include the Transportation Mini-Series, a 1-day annual conference; the Student Outreach Program; a local scholarship program; and the recent Leadership Program.

Cheryl Malerba speaks at a podium.
Cheryl Malerba, chief of staff at the Connecticut Department of Transportation, speaks at the WTS Leadership Program in 2018.

WTS-CT comprises more than 100 active members, 25 corporate sponsors, and supporting public agencies. The chapter strives to create an inclusive environment for women in transportation statewide. WTS-CT has grown by presenting enriching activities and information to meet the changing career needs of women working in various transportation modes and sectors at the local, State, and Federal levels. The following examples show how.

Transportation Mini-Series

The pinnacle program of WTS-CT is its Transportation Mini-Series. Held annually since 2007, this program brings in experts from around the country to speak on current and emerging topics and draws attendance from across the transportation industry. Subjects range from the latest on connected and autonomous vehicles and what they mean for infrastructure, safety, and transit, to drones, accelerated bridge construction techniques, and implementing urban bike networks. The conference captures interest from, and participation by, a wider audience with every year. In 2019, the program drew more than 150 attendees.

Student Outreach Program

WTS-CT's Student Outreach is designed to improve science technology engineering and math skills at the high school level, by informing students about exciting jobs in transportation and encouraging them to take transportation-related college curricula in pursuit of a transportation career.

College, high school, and middle school girls and women in Connecticut, along with their teachers, have been successfully participating in WTS-CT events and activities related to transportation careers since 2011, and momentum is building. In all, approximately 800 students have participated during 9 years of the Student Outreach Program.

The chapter's success in identifying partners with similar goals is the foundation of the work of the Student Outreach Committee. WTS-CT has formed strong educational partnerships with the University of Hartford, Trinity College, Central Connecticut State University, University of Connecticut, Mitchell College, University of St. Joseph, Naugatuck Valley Community College, Connecticut Science Center, New England Air Museum, and Belden Public Library in Rocky Hill, CT. The chapter has also forged important partnerships with organizations such as the Girl Scouts of Connecticut, Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund, and Society of Women Engineers, as well as with State agencies such as the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) and Connecticut Airport Authority, and the regional planning government councils.

The WTS-CT Student Outreach Committee's main objective is to encourage young women to pursue careers in the transportation industry and to see themselves as unlimited in their potential to change the future. To that end, committee members were particularly inspired during a recent chapter-sponsored field trip to Bradley International Airport. The students expressed amazement upon learning how their State was the first in the country to use the "extradosed" design method at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge on I–95 in New Haven, CT. The innovative extradosed design, a hybrid between cable-stayed and box girder bridge designs, enables the bridge towers to be shorter, which is necessary for the air traffic in and out of the nearby airport.

Group of Girl Scouts stands beside a small airplane in a hangar.
WTS-CT organized this tour of the Groton-New London Airport for a group of local Girl Scouts during a student outreach event.

Scholarship Program

In 2007, WTS-CT started a local scholarship program for undergraduate women interested in careers in the transportation industry. For the inaugural year, the chapter awarded one $1,000 scholarship. Since its inception, the scholarship program has grown considerably and now includes two graduate scholarships, each in the amount of $1,000; two undergraduate scholarships, each in the amount of $1,000; and a community college/trade school scholarship in the amount of $500. To date, WTS-CT has awarded scholarships to a total of 24 women pursuing careers in transportation.

Leadership Program

In January 2017, WTS-CT launched its newest program—the WTS Connecticut Leadership Program. "This exciting homegrown program empowers WTS-CT members by providing speakers and programs that focus on core competencies necessary to become effective leaders and managers," says Cheryl Malerba, chief of staff at CTDOT. "WTS-CT membership and networks provide talent and expertise to locate pro bono services and low-cost programs."

Conference attendees talking in a crowd at an event.
Conference attendees mingle at the WTS Transportation Mini-Series in October 2019.

Each module runs approximately 90 minutes to 2 hours in length and links to one of the core leadership competencies such as professional accountability, technology, critical thinking and decisionmaking, and strategic planning. When a participant completes 5, 10, or 15 modules, she or he is awarded with certificates at the silver, gold, or platinum level, respectively. In 2 years, WTS-CT has awarded nine silver and three gold certificates and will award its highest recognition, the platinum award, this year in 2020.

Looking to the Future

WTS-CT looks forward to celebrating women in transportation for years to come. In 2017, to celebrate its accomplishments, the chapter hosted a 25th anniversary gala where past board members, corporate sponsors, partners, and advocates came together to toast a quarter century of achievements. Damato-Torres says, "The WTS-CT chapter remains steadfast in its goal to advance women in transportation and prides itself in the growth of the chapter's programs to support this mission."


Amy Jackson-Grove is the Division Administrator for the Federal Highway Administration's Connecticut Division. In this position, she leads a staff of 19 professionals and works closely with the leadership at the Connecticut Department of Transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, local government, and the Local Technical Assistance Program at the University of Connecticut in implementing the Federal-Aid Highway Program in Connecticut. Amy holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of New Hampshire.

For more information, visit www.wtsinternational.org/connecticut.

 

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