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WTS Boston Women’s History Month, March Luncheon

April 28, 2014 04:57 PM

March Newsletter Article by Natalie Wadia, Bryant Associates, Inc. 


In honor of Women’s History Month, the March Luncheon featured a panel of five U.S. DOT women leaders and a discussion on the challenges they have faced in their careers, future goals as a leader, and advice to help other women on their path to success. The five women included: 
Anne Aylward, Deputy Associate Administrator for Research, Innovation, and Technology at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center

Michelle Muhlanger, Deputy Regional Administrator of Region One for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)

Amy Lind Corbett, Regional Administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) New England Region

Pamela Stephenson, Division Administrator for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Massachusetts Division

Mary Beth Mello, Regional Administrator for the Region I Office of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA)


Ms. Aylward moderated the panel and began by asking Ms. Mello about the biggest challenge she’s faced in her career. Ms. Mello stated the biggest challenge she has faced and many other women in leadership roles face is work/life balance. While work/life balance has been a challenge for her, she stated that it has gotten better.  Ms. Mello went on to say that the important core qualities for a leader include humbleness, integrity, resiliency, confidence, faith in yourself, willingness to make mistakes and tough decisions, learning from your mistakes, and a love for what you do. Ms. Stephenson addressed the biggest challenge for her is over commitment. Her advice was to be weary of over commitment and take time for yourself.

marchluncheon2The discussion shifted to the private sector and how experience in the private sector has helped the panelists succeed in the public sector. Ms. Stephenson was the only panelist who had a private sector background. In her private sector experience she encountered many short deadlines and a lot of work, but from this experience she learned how to lead with persuasion and influence. She learned that you can’t make people do what you want; you have to convince them in a subtle way. This method of leading has helped her in her role the FHWA, where she works to guide the state from the background. 


Ms. Aylward asked Ms. Muhlanger about her current initiatives and future goals. Ms. Muhlanger discussed how each year at the FRA she encounters less money and less people, but has the same or growing number of railroads to maintain. Her initiative and future goal is to figure out how to provide better and safer railroads with a smaller budget.  

Ms. Aylward then turned to Ms. Corbett, and asked if she envisioned her current position when she started her career. Ms. Corbett explained that after college she was an 8th grade English teacher who wanted her pilot’s license. In order to get her license she got a second job to pay for it, which shows her determination for achieving her goals. She then went to law school, where she took an internship at the FAA, where she’s been ever since. She has been eligible for retirement for over 5 years, but she finds her career motivating, satisfying, and challenging. Her advice to others for charting out their career path was to introduce yourself and ask for help, stand in someone else’s shoes and see how they view you or your department, invest in yourself continuously, keep up with technology, and learn certain skills for all careers (e.g., negotiation). 

For the final question, Ms. Aylward addressed all panelists and asked what was the best advice they ever received from a mentor and what advice they could share with us today. Ms. Mello’s advice was to never lead with an ego, always build bridges, add value by taking people to a new place, and enjoy the journey, have fun. Ms. Muhlanger’s advice was that anyone can be a leader, if you can lead volunteers you can lead people that work for you. Ms. Stephenson said change is good, it creates opportunity. She went on to quote a song she heard on the radio that inspired her, “Life is just a leap of faith, spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape” (Guy Clark). Ms. Corbett also quoted a song, “If you're goin' through hell keep on going, don't slow down, if you're scared don't show it” (Rodney Atkins). She also said to that as a leader you should leave people thinking better of themselves. 

The panel wrapped up with a brief Q&A session. Marvin Miller, of Green International Affiliates, Inc., asked the panelists what their aspirations were going forward. Ms. Alyward said she would like to bring along the next generation of leaders. Ms. Corbett would like to give back and encourage girls in engineering. Ms. Stephenson would like to be a role model and stated that we’re all a role model to someone. 


In picture: Amy Corbett, Mary Beth Mello, Michelle Muhlanger, Pamela Stephenson, Alison Lima, Rachael Sack, Anne Aylward

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