Transportation work is important,
fast-paced and fun!
Employers are looking for folks from many engineering fields: aeronautical engineers, CEs, MEs, IEs and more
Diversity in transportation can be about “the power of the mix” in strengthening the company, and/or about putting together a local workforce that reflects
the community it serves
By Sue Marquette Poremba
Transportation comes in many forms, like cars, trucks, trains and planes. Transportation jobs for techies range just as widely, from design, production and utilization of the movers themselves, to design or upkeep of the terminals they employ and the roads and rails they move on, to the agencies that keep them moving.
Transportation-involved employers are looking for folks from many engineering fields: aeronautical engineers who may work on the aerodynamics of jets or new autos, CEs who are into terminal, track or parking lot layout, and MEs and IEs who get involved in almost everything.
Clearly, transportation also drives IT work. In railroading, for example, long-time CSX employee Jeff White notes that almost every aspect of running a railroad is now done through computer technology.
Diversity starts at the top
Transportation, like other industries, thrives on a diverse workforce. Premjit Rai, who works in the division of civil rights at the California Department of Transportation, says the agency has done a terrific job of promoting diversity in hiring.
“It starts at the top,” he says. “Our diversity workforce policy has been in place since 1992. When you have a culturally diverse and committed executive management team, you’ll obviously do a better job hiring and retaining a diverse workforce.”
For example, “About 30 percent of our workforce now is female,” he reports.
CalTrans, with its dozen districts across the state, does a lot of local recruiting. “That way,” Rai explains, “our workforce reflects the workforce composition of the local area.”
Deb Elam, VP and chief diversity officer at General Electric (GE, Fairfield, CT), agrees on the importance of a diverse workforce. “At GE, diversity is about the power of the mix: the strength that results from a team with varied experiences, backgrounds and styles,” she says. “Technology and innovation fuel GE’s growth, and having the best global engineering talent helps us achieve these goals.”
Tom Ng manages jet controls at GE Aviation
Tom Ng is the director of military controls at GE Aviation’s Cincinnati, OH operation. He manages a group of eighty engineers and forty contractors.
“I cover all large military applications for fighter jet engines, mainly in controls which, of course, are all electronic,” Ng explains.
He also leads the Asian Pacific American Forum for GE Aviation. The group promotes the development, recruitment and retention of Asian Pacific Americans at the company.
Ng has been with GE Aviation for twenty-four years, since he got his 1984 BS in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland-College Park and joined GE’s two-year Edison Engineering Development Program.
Becoming an aerospace engineer was a long-term dream for Ng. Growing up in Washington, DC, he virtually lived in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
“I’ve always been fascinated with airplanes and rockets,” he says. “As a kid I thought I wanted to work in the space industry, but in college I gravitated toward aircraft.”
His role today is more organizational than hands-on. The team he manages is working on controls development for the Joint Strike Fighter F-136 engine. “It’s a vertical lift airplane,” he explains.
Ng’s group recently had a successful test of the advanced control technology of the engine, “and that’s as much as I can reveal about that program,” he says.
Though he works on military aircraft now, Ng’s design background is in commercial craft like the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320. “Primarily those planes are powered by GE’s CFM 56 engines. I spent fourteen years working on controls for the CFM.”
The work on cutting-edge products and technology is what Ng likes best about his job. “I’ve always gravitated to the newer programs,” he says. “We’re constantly pushing the envelope of technology. That’s probably what attracts the best talent to aerospace.”
Dr Amit Tamhane is an engineering manager for Cessna
A native of India, Amit Tamhane came to the U.S. for his graduate work. After getting his MS and PhD in materials science and engineering at Ohio State University in 1994, Dr Tamhane stayed on at the school to do post-doctoral research. That’s where he met the folks from Cessna Aircraft (Wichita, KS).
“Cessna had an opening and they invited me to apply,” he says.
He joined Cessna in 1997, and is now manager of materials and process engineering, as well as one of the company’s engineering reps for the FAA.
“Our department is fairly large. We’re responsible for the materials used on our planes,” he says. “We also evaluate and improve manufacturing techniques.”
The group is responsible for materials used on every part of the plane, from the shell to the cabin furnishings. “Following federal guidelines, we test the materials used for anything you see on a plane,” he says.
Another duty for the department is evaluating the newest technologies, working closely with academic researchers. “One current project is looking at new composites and nanocomposites,” he notes.
Tamhane relishes the job that lets him mix his academic skills with industry technology. “I expected to end up as a professor somewhere,” he says. “But what’s happening at Cessna
is much more exciting. This is exactly what I want to do!”
CE Brian Gower is a traffic engineer with the Kansas DOT
Growing up, Brian Gower didn’t plan to be an engineer. “I wanted to be a professional baseball player,” he recalls with a smile.
But with his mom’s encouragement and a talent for math and science, he entered the University of Kansas as an engineering major. He also played baseball there for a while, but eventually gave it up for lack of time, and graduated in 1990 with a BSCE.
It’s a decision he doesn’t regret. “I have a good career,” he says.
Gower is a state traffic engineer with the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT). “This isn’t a field I had a lot of exposure to in college, but when I was looking for a job KDOT needed an engineer, and I was lucky enough to be hired.”
Traffic studies are an important part of the job. “That can range from concerns about speeds to intersection control,” he explains. “We try to improve safety, primarily at intersections.”
Gower’s responsibilities involve both engineering and management these days. He’s currently involved in a school-zone program to promote safety around rural schools in the state
At Kleinfelder, CE Stacie Steel works in highway materials
Stacie Steel has worked for Kleinfelder (Denver, CO) for seven years. She started with the company before she received her BSCE from the University
of Washington in 2004, and became a full time employee after graduation.
“I have a background in materials testing; that’s what I did with Kleinfelder
for my first six years,” Steel says. “Then I decided to focus on pavement.
Now I specialize in the asphalt and concrete materials used in highways and parking lots.”
As project manager for Kleinfelder’s pavement group, Steel has worked on jobs ranging from design/build projects to pavement management studies for municipalities and retail giants. She’s currently involved with existing paving at major retail stores throughout the Midwest.
“We start with an initial pavement evaluation,” she explains. “Based on those results we recommend rehabilitation techniques for the pavement. It may be a complete remove and replace, or an overlay, or just a seal coating. Then we work with the owner to send the project to bid and we do the testing during reconstruction.”
Kleinfelder provides testing services like quality control for contractors or quality assurance for project owners, to make sure the specified materials are actually used when the pavement is put down. “It’s an insurance policy for both sides,” she says. “Contractors want to make sure they have documentation that they placed quality materials, and the owners want to be sure they have the finished product they are paying for.”
Steel works closely with contractors and subcontractors on the paving projects. “I’ve learned
to exude confidence,” she confides with a smile.
Things are different with a highway. “We are more involved with the upfront work on the project. It’s not as hands-on as parking lots.”
Pavement specs today often employ sustainable materials, Steel reports. “We recommend recycling the existing paving to eliminate the economic and environmental costs of hauling it off,” she says.
Steel likes the work she’s been doing with sustainable materials. In fact, she originally wanted to be an environmental engineer. “But when I first came to Kleinfelder the opening was in construction. Later, when I finally had the chance to move to an environmental job, I decided to stay with construction because I liked the fast pace.”
IE John Longstreet is a chief production engineer at Toyota
John Longstreet always had an interest in engineering and he always loved cars. He’s been working in the auto industry since he got his BSIE from Missouri State University in 1985.
His career took him to Chrysler and Mitsubishi, and now he’s with Toyota.
He joined Toyota (Erlanger, KY) in 1996, starting in the company’s tech support group. He moved through several positions, and in 2006 was promoted to his current job as chief production engineer for the Sienna, Toyota’s minivan.
The automakers he’s worked for tend to share the same basic processes, Longstreet notes. What changes from company to company is the way the auto plants are managed and how the engineering groups prepare for new models.
“Some places push innovation first, others put standardization first,” he explains. “Toyota understands what standard practices are and then looks for ways to improve.”
It’s Longstreet’s current job to make sure the desired style and design parameters will actually work out physically. “I’m responsible for making sure the manufacturing and quality standards are met,” he says.
He’s no longer as hands-on as he used to be. His basic job is seeing that the body shop, weld, assembly and quality groups are meeting their development milestones and targets.
Longstreet takes time to support young African American engineers. He’s belonged to NSBE for a dozen years and helped bring a number of black engineers to Toyota.
When he first started very few black engineers were going into the automotive industry, so he knows from experience the hurdles they face. And now he has an even more personal reason for his interest: his daughter will soon finish her engineering degree and go out to join the workforce.
“African Americans want to see people like themselves at all levels when they join a company,” Longstreet says. “If they don’t see that, they don’t believe that opportunities exist, and you fail to retain them.”
Aerospace engineer Nina Tortosa brings aerodynamics to GM
As a little girl Nina Tortosa watched a space shuttle launch. The moment sparked an interest in space and led her toward aerospace engineering.
But once in engineering school she discovered that she also liked fluid dynamics, and driving is an important interest for her. When she graduated, she joined General Motors (GM,
She lived in Denmark as a small child, until her father’s company transferred him to Minnesota. She grew up there, and earned a 1998 BS in aerospace engineering and mechanics and a 1999 MS in aerospace engineering at the University of Minnesota. Then she went to work for GM.
Today she’s an aerodynamicist. “My job involves improving the aerodynamic performance of the vehicles,” she explains. “I work with the designers to help improve fuel economy.”
She’s currently working on the aerodynamics of the Chevy Volt, which is still in design. “Whenever we can reduce a car’s drag, we improve its performance and fuel economy,” she explains. “It’s the most cost-effective way to improve the fuel economy of a vehicle.
“The sheet metal has to be stamped one way or the other, so that cost is already accounted for. If you can design it so the stamping is more aerodynamic, you can go farther on a gallon of gas or a single charge of the battery.”
The Volt is a hybrid vehicle that will run on all electricity for the first forty miles. After that an onboard engine generator kicks in. The car is expected to be on the market in 2010.
“The core of my job is to take the initial surface of the vehicle and start changing it to improve it,” Tortosa says. “We start in the front and work our way to the back. The design studio works with me to make sure we maintain the features that define the style of the vehicle.” Together they develop a test plan for drag measurement, which is taken to the wind tunnel.
Aerodynamics has become a major component of auto design, especially with the Volt. “In an electric vehicle aerodynamics can affect the range more than anything else,” Tortosa explains.
“Working on the Volt really opened my eyes to the evolution of the auto industry. I’m thrilled to be part of it.”
MBA Martin M’tambo works in the Bendix warranty department
In 2001 Martin M’tambo came to the U.S. from Africa to get an MBA in advanced international business from Baldwin Wallace College (Berea, OH).
In 2002, while he was still working on his MBA, he was offered a job with Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems (Elyria, OH), the company that makes airbrake systems. He finished his degree in 2003.
M’tambo has a 1999 bachelor of accountancy from the University of Malawi, his home country. He started at Bendix as an accounting analyst, but hoped to find a more technical job within the company. That opportunity came in 2006 when the warranty division created the position of warranty analyst.
“It was all engineers in the warranty department, and while they like numbers, they don’t like accounting numbers,” he explains with a smile. “The company wanted someone with a finance background and experience in SAP, and I had that.”
Today M’tambo is responsible for budgeting and warranty costs, and he works closely with the product line directors to understand how their lines are operating. “I’m also responsible for warranty metrics, keeping an eye on any new defects that are being reported, and working with the engineers to correct them.”
His job has given him a new perspective on the business. Now he has to understand all aspects of the company and communicate effectively with the engineers on the technical details of the products. His job also requires database management skills.
“The biggest impact of my work is getting the job done quickly to reduce the cost impact on the business,” he says.
Jeff White is a division manager with CSX
It’s Jeff White’s responsibility to stay on top of the technology that’s used by his employees at the railroad. White is a division manager in the CSX Chicago division. He started there right out of college, when he graduated from Eastern Kentucky University in 1976 with a BS in law enforcement.
“I started in the field as a switchman, then moved to assistant trainmaster,”
he says. Throughout the years he’s continuously moved around the country and up the company ladder.
CSX is divided into ten divisions. White is currently accountable for the area from Chicago to Detroit and northern Ohio, with responsibility for 1,300 employees. “We handle all premium freight on our railroad, things like auto freight and coal freight,” he explains.
How did someone with a degree in law enforcement end up working for a railroad? “It was the first job that came along,” he says with a laugh. He had applied to work with the company’s own special service police force, but the available jobs were all on the transportation side of the business.
Today’s railroading requires a lot of technical skill, White notes. Centralized crew calling requires modern technology, and remote control is used for some rail operations, including most yard jobs at terminals.
“It’s quite a difference from when I first started,” he says. “Back then, everything was carbon paper. It was a big thrill when the first CRT box was put on my desk.”
CE Jennifer Toth is in planning at DMJM Harris
Jennifer Toth has more than ten years of experience in transportation planning. She received her MSCE from the University of New Mexico in 1997 and took a job with the Arizona Department of Transportation, then moved on to the Phoenix, AZ office of transportation infrastructure consulting firm DMJM Harris (New York, NY).
Talks with her father, a petroleum geologist, convinced Toth to apply for geology and environmental engineering when she started at the University of Houston (Houston, TX). EnvE was a masters program at the time, so she was advised to get her BS in CE. And CE was where she found her career passion.
Today Toth is an associate VP and project manager at the DMJM Harris Phoenix office. She’s responsible for highway projects throughout the Southwest, and continues to work closely with the Arizona DOT.
“We’re working on a long-range transportation plan,” she confides. “We look at the existing conditions for transportation while trying to predict the future of travel issues.”
One project of interest is a long-range study for transportation infrastructure in Arizona, driven by sustainable community and economic development.
There’s a difference between working for a public entity and a private business, she says. “With Arizona DOT everything was hands-on. With DMJM I’ve moved into the project development side of statewide transportation.”
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES IN TRANSPORTATION
Check the Web for the latest opportunities and openings.
|Company and location
|Bell Helicopter Textron
(Fort Worth, TX)
|Vertical lift aircraft
|Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems
|Active vehicle safety systems; commercial vehicle airbrake systems
|BNSF Railway Co
(Fort Worth, TX)
|Department of transportation
|Cessna Aircraft Co
(New York, NY)
|Ford Motor Co
|Aircraft manufacturer and defense
|General Motors Corp
|Kansas Department of Transportation
|Department of transportation
(San Diego, CA)
|Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America
|Transportation Security Administration
(TSA, Washington DC)
|Security for the nation’s transportation systems
|Virginia Department of Transportation
|Building, maintaining and operating the state’s roads, bridges and tunnels |
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