News | METRANS Mentor Program Celebrates 10 Years of Shaping Future Transportation Professionals

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“It is hard to believe a decade has passed since a brave group of students and METRANS Advisory Board members joined together to embark on the pilot of the now established and highly successful METRANS Mentor Program.”

Dr. Victoria Deguzman, Founder, METRANS Mentor Program

As we complete the 10th year of the METRANS Mentor Program, we reflect on the value of mentorship and celebrate the connections made and careers shaped, most recently during a particularly difficult time for students and young professionals. Despite the challenges of a virtual environment, the Mentor Program continued this past academic year, a year when career support was needed more than ever, and experienced a record-breaking year of growth.

The METRANS Mentor Program was launched in 2011 by METRANS Consortium Associate Director, Dr. Victoria Deguzman, who leads education and professional development efforts for the Consortium. “Students were increasingly coming to me for career advice and guidance,” she explains, “and I found I could not, as one person alone and as an academic, meet their needs. I started the program by reaching out to professionals I knew best, our METRANS Advisory Board. They were our first group of mentors, it was an astounding success, and the program has continued to grow and expand each year. We have now matched more than 300 students and mentors, creating enduring and rewarding professional relationships; the success stories keep coming in!”


Now, a decade later, the METRANS Mentor Program is firmly established and has grown beyond the sole guidance of Dr. Deguzman. “A few years into the program it occurred to me that student development and engagement should be more than just as mentees; they should also be afforded the opportunity to lead and shape this program with me, for so many reasons.” The Mentor Program is now student-run, co-led by Ariella Shamir, a senior studying Public Policy at USC Price School, who serves as Director of Communications and by Jessica Brown, a senior studying Civil Engineering at USC Viterbi School of Engineering, as Director of Operations, both working under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Deguzman. “The engagement of student staff has been particularly valuable in developing relevant and engaging virtual programming and additional support during this unpredictable and unprecedented time,” Deguzman shared.


City of Glendora Transportation Manager, Steven Mateer, who holds a Master of Urban Planning from the University of California, Los Angeles, has participated as a METRANS mentor for many years, beginning while he was Transportation Planning Manager at Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro). Now at the City of Glendora, Mateer oversees the City’s transit operations, bicycle and pedestrian programs, and coordinates with regional transportation planning projects, and has shared his vast experience with numerous mentees. Steven enjoys “helping students get to know the field, improve interviewing skills, and navigate the complexities of starting one’s career.”

Steven Mateer

City of Glendora Transportation Manager


This past year, Mateer mentored USC Master of Urban Planning, Transportation and Mobility Concentration student and now graduate, Dan Lamere. “I applied for a mentor through the METRANS Mentor Program in my second year at USC and was lucky to be matched with Steven Mateer,” Dan reflects. “Steven helped me better understand the transportation field in LA, providing advice on my resume, interview tips, and general job search guidance. It was incredibly helpful to check in with Steven every month to discuss my progress and receive career advice from someone so experienced in transportation planning. My only regret is that I didn't apply for this program earlier in my time at USC, as it was such a huge help in launching my planning career.”

Dan Lamere

Transportation Associate, Countywide Planning & Development at Los Angeles Metro


Each year, the Mentor Program accepts applications from students looking to expand their understanding of the transportation industry and to make connections with those who are actually holding the careers they hope to pursue. The program is open to students across the county, in all fields of study and at all levels, the only requirement is that these students are interested in considering a career in the transportation industry. Students come from varied fields of studies - policy, planning, engineering, business, communications, and more - as does our network of industry professionals who serve as mentors. After an interview process with each student applicant, program staff meet to suggest the best fit with a professional and suggest the match to the professional. Should the professional agree, students and mentors are then introduced, and the magic of mentoring is underway. “The goal of the MENTOR Program,” Dr. Deguzman shares, “is to bring the real world of transportation practice to campus, connecting students with experienced transportation professionals, making that connection as early in their studies as possible.”

Dr. Thomas O’Brien

Executive Director of the Center for International Trade and Transportation


Mentor Dr. Thomas O’Brien, Executive Director of the Center for International Trade and Transportation and a USC alum, reflects on the importance of mentoring while students are still pursuing their studies. “I lead a research institute at a university with strong ties to the transportation industry;’ he notes, “and as a result, I think I can be most helpful in advising students how to best prepare themselves for post-graduation while they’re still in school. It includes building their networks including the one they have with their peers, who will move into leadership positions with them. For me, the greatest benefit is engaging with people who are studying and thinking critically about the transportation challenges confronting us and not afraid to think big about the solutions.” His mentee, USC second-year Master of Urban Planning-Transportation and Mobility Concentration student Josh Albertson, agrees. “I am passionate about public transit and hope to soon work in local government as a management analyst in a municipal transportation planning office. I joined the METRANS mentorship program to make connections in the industry and learn more about what specific segment of transportation planning I would be most interested in. The mentorship program has been so useful for making new relationships, searching for internship opportunities, and applying to fellowships. Tom is such a great mentor and I'd recommend this program to anyone!

Josh Albertson

USC second-year Master of Urban Planning-Transportation and Mobility Concentration student


This past year, mentee Sona Babayan applied to the Mentor Program before resuming her university education, after completing her bachelor’s degree and while working in the transportation industry and planning for graduate studies. Babayan was participating in the Entry Level Trainee Program (ELTP) at LA Metro, and learned about the Mentor Program as she was seeking guidance on returning to school for graduate level studies.

In the Fall of 2020, Babayan joined the program with the goal of planning her best course of action to further develop her skills and further pursue her studies transportation planning and world. She will begin her Master of Urban Planning (MUP), Transportation and Mobility Concentration studies at USC this Fall. “The mentor program has helped me to be better-grounded in the theory of transportation planning. I have had such a great experience with my mentor, Sue Dexter, including with regards to the steps I need to take to best prepare to begin graduate school Fall and to utilize USC's online library to obtain the articles and other reading materials necessary for my courses,” she shares.

Sona Babayan 

USC second-year Master of Urban Planning-Transportation and Mobility Concentration student


Babayan’s mentor, Sue Dexter, is an experienced transportation professional who, like Babayan, decided to return to school after spending some time in the transportation industry, and is now a Ph.D. Candidate at USC's Sol Price School of Public Policy, studying goods movement, urban spatial structure, and technologies to reduce carbon emissions. Before starting her studies, she was a Program Manager at Toyota Motor North America for 26 years, specializing in broad-scale distribution and system development projects. “Sona and I are a perfect match,” Dexter found. “We both work on freight-related issues in the Los Angeles area. We meet regularly to discuss various topics driven by Sona, including career and educational advice. On a personal note, I am thrilled to have been paired with Sona. She is an amazing young woman!”

Sue Dexter 

Ph.D. in Urban Planning and Development


This past year, we had the pleasure of matching 44 mentors and mentees, and as in previous years, it has been an exciting process to witness these partnerships blossom and make a lasting and often life changing impact. In addition to the time they spend together, participants enjoy a monthly student-produced newsletter, advice on how to better their mentoring relationships, with activity suggestions, news, and relevant events. The newsletter also serves as a way for our staff to check in and ensure that our members are satisfied with the program and are continuing to benefit and have the best possible outcomes from their mentoring experience. We are eternally grateful to the selfless dedication of the mentors who make this program possible, the enthusiasm and trust of the mentees who embark upon the mentoring journey, and look forward to welcoming a new group of students and professionals to the program this Fall. We encourage those who are interested in joining as a mentor or mentee to contact Dr. Deguzman at [email protected] to learn more.


About the Author: 

Ariella Shamir is a senior at the USC Price School of Public Policy studying Public Policy and double majoring in Philosophy. She is the Director of Communications for the METRANS Mentor Program and is originally from San Diego, California.