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The 2015 WTS Annual Conference in Chicago - A Behind the Scenes Perspective


Mary Sisay, Parsons Brinckerhoff

Each year before the WTS annual conference, President and CEO Marcia Ferranto selects a woman to shadow her at the event. I was thrilled and honored when this year I was selected for this amazing opportunity. While the conference was a three-day event, my shadow duties lasted throughout the week. More than just simply accompanying her, Marcia wanted me to be exposed to the necessary leadership skills required to successfully run a large non-profit organization. Throughout this process, I learned many useful pieces of knowledge, including how the organization and Marcia fundraise, and how she has successfully earned the confidence and respect of her staff.

This year’s conference was hosted in Chicago and it is a place I consider my U.S. home base. Upon my arrival at O’Hare Airport, I was greeted by fond memories of my life in the Windy City. During my ride to the hotel, I reminisced about the time I transformed into a “city girl.” I was reminded why Chicago is my favorite place in the U.S.—great architecture, movable bridges, the Riverwalk, the Magnificent Mile, water taxis, and most of all, the energy of the city. After my arrival in Chicago, I immediately headed to my old school where I met with my old academic advisor and new professors that are interested in setting up a WTS student chapter.

Upon arriving at my hotel, I was greeted with a phone call from Marcia letting me know she, too, had just arrived. Soon after, we met and talked about my duties and I was given a printed copy of my schedule for the next few days. My shadow duties were not what I expected and I felt overwhelmed and excited by the level of detail it entailed. After our meeting, we headed to the WTS Chicago Chapter Welcome Meeting where we met with the chapter’s event planners and volunteers.

Mary_S_at_podiumThe next day began early with the WTS Board of Directors and WTS Foundation Board meetings. I observed how effectively the members of each of the boards communicated. Later that evening, we headed to the WTS Executive Women’s Roundtable and Women Business Owners Roundtable Welcome Reception held at the Mid America Club on the 80th floor of the Aon Center. The venue provided the best views of the city. I was able to converse with many of the accomplished women in attendance in a more relaxed setting and also received priceless career advice from them.

Day three marked the official commencement of the 2015 Annual WTS Conference, which began with the Chapter Leader Breakfast, where I was introduced to even more amazing people. During the breakfast, I had the opportunity to interact with more attendees. Upon learning more about many of the transportation leaders there, I found it inspired me to work harder and aspire for more success in my career and personal life. Days four and five consisted of more meetings and workshops. By now I was more comfortable in my role and felt very confident in networking with the attendees at the conference. On Friday morning, I conquered my worst fear when I spoke in front of nearly 600 people. During my speech, I had the pleasure of introducing Byrna Helfer, U.S. DOT Director of Public Engagement. It was a great experience, and as Marcia rightly puts it, “We are never ready but we are always prepared!” My prepping the night before made it easier.

During the conference, Marcia and I were approached many times by attendees interested in becoming the CEO shadow at next year’s conference. I will soon meet with the CEO shadows from previous years so that together we can develop an application package for this selection process. I believe that whoever is selected will find this experience to be truly invaluable.

I have met so many inspiring women at this conference who have made indelible impressions on me, the likes of Nuria Fernandez, who never followed the status quo but defined her own meaning of work-life balance, Paula Hammond, Dr. Beverly Scott, Grace Crunican, Rina Cutler, Stephanie Dawson, Margaret O’meara, Dana Hook, and all the other amazing women who have been trailblazers in the transportation industry. These people have succeeded amidst adversity, struggles, or challenges throughout their careers and have set the standards for the rest to follow. The most valuable lesson I learned from this experience is to believe in yourself, be the best at what you do and to grow your professional and personal network.

I am truly honored to be have been chosen by Marcia Ferranto to be her shadow and I shall forever remain grateful for the opportunity and experience Marcia has afforded me. I am also grateful to all the women I met who shared their time, stories, advice, support and motivation to be successful throughout my career.


(Marcia and her shadows; From L to R, Danielle Elkins 2012, Marcia Ferranto, Mary Sisay 2015 and Jenna Oskowitz 2014)




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