We sat down with three transportation leaders at SEH to discuss trends across the industry, their careers and what it means to be part of a multidisciplined engineering company.
Meet our transportation experts:
Heather Kienitz, PE* is an SEH associate and senior professional traffic engineer who has worked at SEH for 22 years. She is passionate about developing multimodal transportation to change how communities move and interact.
Terry Metz is a 25-year resident project representative who manages the complexity of highway and major street construction. She keeps the projects on schedule and is often in demand to lead project construction.
Annette Marquez, PE* is a 17-year senior traffic engineer dedicated to ensuring drivers and pedestrians remain safe -- on our roadways and intersections. Her approach to efficiency coupled with innovation results in strategic solutions.
Where do you see the industry heading? How are you preparing?
Technology is fast evolving and the public has high expectations. As engineers, we need to efficiently develop high quality products that are readily understood by the public – we can accomplish this through the use of visualizations and animations. We are continually seeking new tools and technology to communicate concepts and ideas. There is an immense amount of data impacting transportation decisions including safety, traffic patterns, freight and congestion, to name just a few. Robust data analytics are needed to manage and evaluate this information.
GPS and other technologies are greatly affecting the way things are constructed now, from how they are designed and surveyed to how construction equipment is controlled and final records are documented and utilized.
As I am approaching the end of my career, I am amazed at all these new technologies and also happy for the growth opportunities my younger coworkers get to experience.
The industry is working toward efficiency in moving people in all modes. This includes broadening the use of rectangular rapid flash beacons, audible pedestrian buttons, high-intensity activated crosswalk beacons, and the integration of different modes of transportation working in parallel to facilitate that goal.
By staying curious and learning about advances in these areas, we have the opportunity to offer our clients innovative and smart solutions.
What advice would you offer to women looking to pursue a career in transportation/traffic engineering?
If you want to make a difference every day, there’s opportunity. Attend a Women’s Transportation Seminar meeting – it’s a great organization whose vision is for “equity and access for women in transportation.” These meetings provide opportunities to meet local women (and men) in the industry who are aligned with this vision and seek to provide inspiration, mentoring and support to one another and future professionals.
First off, don’t be intimidated! You may not have a clear idea of what is available or even what you might find interesting, but just take the first step and be open to exploring. There are many, many different types of positions in this field – there will be one just right for you.
Stay curious. The field is changing and advancing with many newly approved design options and technological advances to explore. Projects are really an empty canvas waiting for your input.
What do you love most about your career? What are you most proud of?
I love the opportunity to work on a wide range of traffic engineering projects. I spent my first decade at SEH focused primarily on traffic operations analysis for complex networks, corridors and freeways. Over the next decade I completely switched gears, learned something new and focused my work on multimodal transportation and complete streets projects; here, I ultimately found my passion. And, better yet, I know I can share my experiences and help others grow their careers.
The people I have worked with. Because I have a new project and location almost every year, I get to meet many great people. Some I only work with for a short time and others I run into again and again. It has made me very proud to see some of the people I have mentored become highly capable and respected workers.
I also value the opportunity to put my own touch on projects that will be in service for many years. I am always trying to make decisions that help to produce a final product that will serve the needs of the community and be something the client is proud of.
I love problem solving and the diversity of projects I get to work on.
What should prospective employees know about SEH?
I have been given opportunities to grow and prosper in my career. The projects I have contributed to are building our Company’s multimodal portfolio and reputation, while emphasizing work-life integration. Because of this, I’ve been able to manage my son’s soccer team, volunteer in my daughter’s classroom and manage our traffic engineering group.
I think the fact that I have been happy working here for so many years is an answer to the question. It is simply a great place to work!
Our leadership in the Denver office makes a point to keep us informed of the larger corporate picture and quarterly financials. It’s refreshing to have someone actually take the time to break down the numbers and help us understand what they mean, as well as how they affect the Company as a whole and individual employees.
How has SEH supported the growth of your career?
SEH has always given me the freedom to and supported me in developing unique solutions to our clients’ challenges. I’ve also had many opportunities to attend and present at industry conferences, where I have developed many important friendships and contacts. This has also helped elevate my personal brand within the multimodal community.
SEH has always been serious about keeping up with the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) standards and design/construction requirements. We are often sent to training opportunities which keep us abreast of all the changes to construction activities and requirements. We also have access to new technologies and equipment that help us do our jobs.
At SEH, we have a wonderful diversity of practices – whenever I have a question about something outside my normal scope, I know there is an SEH expert available and happy to help.
SEH has supported me in my career by challenging me to do new things and mentoring me along the way. The relationship I’ve had with our Company has really been key for my professional development.
Has SEH’s culture allowed you to progress in your career?
Yes! Complete street projects require collaboration, and SEH has a culture of collaboration. The ease of working across disciplines and with interdisciplinary teams has given me a wide range of different perspectives outside of the multimodal project itself. Many factors play a role in transforming a street – urban design, greening, the public realm, storm water BMPs, maintenance, funding, parking, utility considerations, economics, land use and, of course, engagement. Over the years, I have been fortunate to have mentors from different disciplines – this has included working with urban designer/landscape architect, Bob Kost and municipal engineer, Sue Mason, as well as several traffic engineers. This experience has proven instrumental in my understanding of how complex projects work.
I feel that SEH’s culture of respect and encouragement allows me to be curious to explore new areas of my job. Early in my career, I made connections which allowed me to do some very fun things – including sitting on top of a water tower helping with an inspection. I was also offered the position of bridge inspector. Since then, I’ve become the lead inspector on some major projects such as large freeway interchanges.
Having a tool at our disposal like the competency model SEH developed and integrated within our employee plans, helps us formally grow in our careers, has allowed me to follow the career path best suited for my strengths; rather than simply being forced into a role that I may not have been comfortable with or successful in.
What’s the coolest project you’ve worked on and why?
The Franklin Avenue Bridge Protected Bikeway project over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. That project involved re-decking the entire bridge. Like many, this project was the result of several conversations that occurred over the course of a few other projects, a few years, and with many people involved across different agencies and companies.
I worked with colleagues at the City and County to develop the concept, which reduced the roadway on the historic, nearly 100- year-old bridge from four lanes to two lanes and included a barrier protected space to accommodate 1,800 people biking and 900 people walking every day.
I would say that my experience working on the Nicollet Mall Reconstruction Project in downtown Minneapolis was both my most challenging and “coolest” project. The City crews, contractor crews and administration/inspection team bonded in a way unlike any other project I’ve been on. We were on a very visible project that was at times questioned by the public. As a group, we were committed to being respectful and considerate of the affected public and businesses while producing a project held to the highest quality standards.
My goal on all projects is to be able to walk away proud of what we have constructed. It was exciting to share that same feeling with everyone on the Nicollet Mall Reconstruction project.
The I-25 signing project in northern Colorado. Up until working on this project, I did not have experience working on a signing project for final design. Previously, I only had experience with feasibility conceptual layouts or spot location fixes using regulatory and warning signing, but had never done an all-inclusive corridor signing project like this before. During the project, I had to flex some research muscles and familiarize myself with the guide sign section of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and local standards, as well as design the structural supports for Class III signs. I worked with an amazing team along the way.