Women in science thrive at ODOT

Recently, the Oregon Department of Transportation joined organizations around the world to celebrate women in science. The focus was on the reality that science and gender equality are both vital for the achievement of internationally agreed development goals. It’s also about honoring the full scope of gender potential.

Here are some of ODOT’s women of science, (see more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram). We wish we could include them all. We also recognize our continued role in empowering the next generation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)  – so we are more equally represented among our own ranks, and on a global scale.

Katie Johnson

Traffic Signal Quality Engineer Katie Johnson, Traffic-Roadway Section, Engineering and Technical Services Branch

I enjoyed math and science in school, so professions that had those elements always appealed to me. In middle school and high school, I was able to gain a better understanding of what engineering entailed from my two older brothers, who graduated from Oregon State University with degrees in Civil Engineering and Construction Engineering Management.

But it was my first college internship at ODOT Region 2 Traffic that confirmed engineering was the right career for me. After 20-plus years at ODOT, engineering has proved to be a good fit for my interests and aspirations:

  • I like solving problems and making things better.
  • I like being part of something that is important and helps people.
  • Job prospects, working conditions, career progression, and compensation are good.

There are several things that I enjoy about being an engineer. Here are some of my favorite parts of the job:

  • The opportunity to work on big, cool infrastructure projects that will be used by generations to come.
  • The variety of work — no day is ever the same.
  • There is always something new to learn.
  • It’s a good combination of field work and office work.
  • I get to work with talented, helpful and fun co-workers.

Advice to future engineers: Seek out good mentors — teachers, family, managers, co-workers — who will help and support you through the process of becoming an engineer. I had a very supportive family and many excellent mentors that have helped me in a variety of ways. They are invaluable, and I owe my successes and improved knowledge to them.

Also, take the engineering exams as soon as you are eligible. Being a registered professional engineer opens a lot of doors for career advancement. It is also much easier to prepare for the exams when you are young and right out of school. Life and work responsibilities tend to increase and become more time consuming as you get older. 

Amber Marcus

Amber Marcus, project manager for the Business Intelligence/Data Warehouse Program, Project Development Section, Statewide Project Delivery Branch

My career in technology began early with encouragement from my teacher in a computer class. This led to a paid internship as a high school senior at a private company. There I received mentoring in engineering and technology from highly productive and credible professionals. I realized the satisfaction in finding solutions through software, and I enjoyed providing data-driven results through automation. I enrolled in college and began working at a high-tech company while earning a degree in computer science. While at this company, I was exposed to many training opportunities and disciplines that enabled me to learn on-the-job skills from incredible people. I also gained experience performing different job functions and disciplines. During this time, I enrolled in another college and earned my bachelor’s degree. This gave me real-world work experiences to augment my formal training and education so that I could apply what I learned. Because project management is art and science, the blend of aptitude, training, education – and the presence of inspirational leaders – influenced and encouraged me in the business and technology field.

The best parts of my job are getting to work with so many different people and areas of ODOT’s operations and learning a little about each business — maybe enough to be dangerous?! — but still providing enough of an overview to better appreciate all the functions within the agency. I get to work with some smart technical people every day. We learn from each other and have fun working together. I am by nature a planner and results-oriented, so my job embodies both of these attributes. It makes a great fit. Managing projects — specifically data warehouse projects — and performing resource management for the warehouse gives me satisfaction as I see the puzzle pieces come together and the positive outcomes that result. It’s rewarding to see an issue saddled with chaos and confusion become an organized, methodical, and dependable solution. Getting from A to B is not always a walk in the park. But for me, the beauty is in the data and how the team can use challenges to rally for the best solution.

What advice would you give to a future woman of science, technology, engineering and/or math?

My advice for someone considering this field is find what it is that you love and then try it! Try on several job functions within your field to learn what it is you really love, what you’re good at, what brings you a sense of satisfaction and results in good for others. To quote Steve Jobs from his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address: “…the only way to do great work is to do what you love.