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My Experience in the Emerging Professionals Program

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Margo Dawes, Volpe National Transportation Systems Center

In my year as an Emerging Professional, I learned a great deal about WTS-Boston and almost as much about myself. I applied to the program on a platform of improving diversity and representation within the organization and in the transportation industry as a whole, and I had hoped to work with the Diversity Committee to do so. When I began the program, I learned that the Diversity Committee had been temporarily discontinued with the goal of having each committee independently focus on improving diversity and inclusion. In the absence of a committee specifically focused on my priorities, I struggled to find the right outlet.

I attended luncheons featuring compelling speakers and met a lot of well-established professionals in the industry. I practiced articulating what brought me to WTS and what I hoped to do in my career. My mentor, Melissa Dullea, patiently listened and shared her own experiences (and she showed me around the control rooms of the MBTA, one of my favorite field trips of the year). I felt welcomed at every step, but I also felt lonely. As a queer woman of color, I saw an opportunity for the organization to talk more about the ways our identities impact us and our work as transportation professionals.

In May, with WTS-Boston’s support, I attended the WTS-International Conference in Brooklyn, which featured a powerful array of women working hard to effect change in the industry. Following the closing speech on diversity and inclusion, I bonded with another WTS-Boston member over our interpretation of the talk, and we agreed on several principles that would later form the foundation for a joint effort to improve racial and ethnic diversity in our chapter. I felt emboldened to honestly share my experience—I felt seen and heard.
In October, WTS-Boston invited a speaker who stressed the need to center equity in transportation, my personal mission in my own work. I quietly cheered and made a point to introduce myself afterward. In November, we had another speaker take on a similar topic, and I felt the power of representation that eludes me in many aspects of my professional life.

At the end of my year in the program, I worked with the WTS-Boston Board of Directors to reinstate the Diversity Committee with a new vision—to serve as a resource and guide for other committees in a concerted, multi-pronged effort to improve the diversity of the chapter. Building on WTS’s record of success in advancing women in transportation, we envision a new phase for the organization in which it doubles down on its efforts to advance people who are, for now, still underrepresented in the industry: people of color, working class people, gender nonconforming people, and on.

The Emerging Professionals Program took me on a journey, both emotional and professional. I felt out of place at times, aimless at others. But over the course of the year, I realized I was surrounded by people who were interested in understanding my vision and committed to supporting me in whatever I chose to pursue, and I have come to understand this to be the magic of WTS.

WTS-Boston and this program have also taught me more about committing to work that is important to me, and this is the lesson I’ll direct toward future Emerging Professionals and those considering applying to the program. Invest time and energy, and experience the reward of personal growth.

 

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