What attracted you to the transportation industry?
My degree is in Planning. My first job in the planning field was as a Municipal Planner for the City of Rio Rancho where I really learned that the more inter and intra agency collaboration there is, the more successful we could be with our planning efforts. I participated in MRCOG’s Land Use Transportation Integration Committee (LUTI) and saw so much value in considering transportation in long-range land use planning and vice versa. Eventually a job came up at MRCOG and I was lucky enough to be selected. I’m not sure I really understood what transportation planning even was when I got here, but I have learned so much and am forever grateful for the opportunity.
What has been your greatest professional achievement?
Just recently we received a grant from the state of New Mexico to provide grant writing assistance to our member agencies. We had this crazy short timeline to identify projects and find funding and grant writers for them. In about eight months we helped submit a number of applications resulting in over $36 million in funding for communities in the Mid-Region. One of these projects will bring broadband to every household in the Pueblo of Jemez, and I am really proud of that.
How have women made a difference in the transportation industry?
I think women have been making significant contributions in bringing more attention to transportation safety especially here at MRCOG. For many years transportation planning was completely focused on efficiently and quickly moving vehicles without much talk of safety, but thanks to efforts to implement Vision Zero and include safety in all of our planning, we are seeing a sort of paradigm shift in transportation planning to ensuring safety for all road users, not just people in vehicles, and I think women have had a lot to do with that.
What was the biggest influence in your selection of a career in transportation?
I took a regional planning class at UNM with Tony Sylvester (who works with Rio Metro) where we read The Regional City by Peter Calthorpe. Planning at a regional scale, integrating land use planning with transportation planning - all of these things just made sense to me. After that class I just decided I wanted to work at MRCOG. It took me a few years but eventually I got here.
What is the favorite aspect of your job?
I really enjoy helping the rural and tribal communities in our region. Having spent much of my life in NM I have witnessed the needs in these areas, and it feels really good when we can help them make meaningful changes that will help them flourish now and in the future.
What lessons have you been taught from the important women in your life that you have applied to your own life?
My mom is a cowgirl and her number one rule when riding horses is, “don’t fall off.” It’s kind of weird how I apply that to my life, but it’s just always there. Anyone who has ever ridden a horse will tell you it’s always better to try and stay on at least until you know it’s safe to fall off (as gracefully as possible, lol) so I always just tell myself to ride it out, it will get better.
How have these lessons helped you succeed as a woman in transportation?
Most of the work that I do is planning, so it’s really important to understand that the beginning of the planning process is rocky and there’s a lot of trust building that has to happen. But if you hold on, by the end you’ve usually made some new friends and hopefully built something that will help achieve a vision that benefits the community and the region as a whole.
What natural talents do you possess that help in your chosen career?
I’ve always had the ability to remain calm in stressful situations. I spent many years working in restaurants as a server and sommelier and they called me “The Duck” because I just let it roll off my back, cool on the surface but paddling like crazy under the water. This is so important when you are trying to gain some kind of consensus on difficult topics because if you remain calm and try to recognize that everyone’s perspective is valued, then that kind of informs the room that is how we’re going to handle this.
What part of your career story would you like to share with the world?
I went back to school when I was in my thirties. I started working in restaurants when I was young, but it wasn’t inspiring me anymore. I share this because it’s never too late to make big changes in your life especially when it comes to your career. I would tell anyone to take the risk. Life is too short to continue doing something that no longer fulfills you just because that’s what you’ve always done.
How long have you been working for the company/organization? And what positions have to you held prior to your current one?
I’ve been with MRCOG since November of 2019. I started with the MRMPO as a Regional Planner, and then took over as the Regional Planning Program Manager in August of 2021.
How does what you do/what the organization does make a positive impact in the community?
The Regional Planning Program provides a lot of support to the rural and tribal communities in our region, often acting as an extension of their capacity through technical assistance, project development, funding, training, and more. Many of these communities are unable to help themselves grow and thrive because they are so busy just getting their basic needs met. So, the assistance we provide helps them sort of see the forest for the trees and plan for a better future.
What do you think is needed to further attract women to the transportation workforce?
One of my mottos is “If you make transportation planning so complex that people can’t understand it, you’re not making transportation for people.” I feel like the engineers and other areas of the transportation industry have this kind of “boy’s club” where they use very technical lingo and it can be very exclusionary. In my experience, women are better at communicating technical information in a way that is accessible to everyday people, maybe because some of us are mothers and have to explain complicated ideas to our kids, or just that we tend to want to be more inclusionary in general (at least in my experience). I guess my point is that the more women are in this field and the more accessible we make it, the more women will be interested in pursuing transportation careers.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to enter this industry?
“Don’t fall off.”
As told to Allyne Clarke, Marketing Manager, Rio Metro Regional Transit District