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Jennifer Russell, WTS Helene M. Overly Memorial Scholarship Recipient

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When Jennifer Russell received a WTS scholarship, she was a student at the University of Southern California working toward an engineering degree. Since then, her career path has taken her to exciting rail projects and an opportunity to help WTS further its mission by helping launch a new WTS chapter.  WTS sat down with Russell to find out more details about where her WTS scholarship has led her, and what she sees in her future.

WTS: What scholarship did you receive and when?

Russell: I was recognized as the WTS National Helene M. Overly Memorial Graduate Scholarship Award recipient in 2005 while studying for my engineer degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Southern California. The true honor in receiving the award was being in the presence of the nation’s leading transportation experts, including WTS leaders Jolene Molitoris, Lorraine Halloway, and the illustrious Mary Peters—then FHWA Administrator. To be recognized at the WTS Awards Banquet venue with so many accomplished professionals was truly humbling!  

WTS: Where has your journey taken you since receiving that scholarship?

Russell: After receiving the award, Parsons Brinckerhoff hired me to work on the Honolulu Rail Transit Project, which was just beginning in 2005. I was again privileged to work on that project through its development to the start of construction in 2012. I was able to experience first-hand our full NEPA transportation project development process: alternatives analysis, public involvement, EIS, procurement planning, growing from a small to large team, and the engineering design development.

WTS: What do you do in your current role?

Russell: I’m working on the California High-Speed Rail project (CAHSR) as a Systems Engineer.  Parsons Brinckerhoff has the program management contract to support the High-Speed Rail Authority, and we are supporting the engineering design with systems engineering processes. Using systems engineering is a novel way to formalize what we’ve been doing for years, but it is exciting!  And the CAHSR team is amazing—with many Honolulu Rail Transit alums.

WTS: What is it about the transportation industry that keeps you excited?

Russell: Transportation touches all of us each day.  Whether you drive, take transit, walk, bike, or just get the mail, you’ve been able to do that because of our transportation network.  There aren’t many professions that impact so many people. Nothing happens until something moves.   

WTS: How did your WTS scholarship help get you to where you are today?

Russell: My WTS scholarship directly impacted my position today—the scholarship literally got me my job.  The scholarship and WTS provided contacts and visibility that resulted in a job with Parsons Brinckerhoff. Without WTS, I would not have met the many corporate and agency leaders and final employer I work for now. My WTS connection continues to help me connect in new communities as I have moved between states quite a bit over the past few years.  

WTS: Do you feel that WTS is a worthwhile organization for others to be a part of?

Russell: As a cross section of the many disciplines that make our transportation systems work, WTS offers a unique chance to get to know a range of transportation practitioners, from engineers to public involvement, planners, economic analysis, and forecast modelers. We reach a cross section of our discipline, strengthen our relationships, and have a chance to share best practices between disciplines! Plus, it’s just a great group of people.

WTS: Where do you see yourself going next?

Russell: In the short term, I’m excited to help grow our brand new chapter, WTS Greater Kansas City! We became an official chapter on December 18, 2013, and I’m thrilled to already see interest and participation from so many in the region!  In longer term, I’m looking forward to sharing new ways of tailoring systems engineering to optimize and support the increasing complexity of our transportation systems. 

 

WTS profiles a past WTS Foundation scholarship recipient several times each year. To submit a recommendation for a Where Are They Now profile, please email mpetto@wtsinternational.org.

 

 

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