News | The METRANS Mentor Program Celebrates its 10th Anniversary

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by Jessica Brown, USC Viterbi School of Engineering, B.S. Civil Engineering (Building Science), Class of 2022

Launched in 2011, the METRANS Mentor Program celebrates a decade of creating personal mentoring relationships between students and transportation professionals. The 2021 iteration of this program features over 20 students from undergraduate and master's-level policy and engineering programs from several California universities. Ten years ago, Dr. Victoria Deguzman, METRANS Associate Director for Education and Professional Development, launched the program, starting with a pilot group of students and professionals connected to the METRANS center. “I found there was a strong need for practical and professional career guidance for transportation students,” Deguzman shared. “Students were increasingly coming to me for transportation career advice and guidance, and I realized that not only was I, as one person, unable to give them each the level of attention they needed and deserved, but I was often not the best person for the job, not being an active practitioner in their specific field of study myself. The METRANS Mentor Program you see today began as my effort to address that. Starting with a small group of students and professionals, we found METRANS could serve a crucial role in making valuable connections between industry and academia by matching professionals with the students who will form the workforce of the future. Students still come to me, but now I can offer them a personal, professional mentor as well.”


The pilot program was an overwhelming success for both the mentors and mentees, and the formal program was then established, adding in student staff, then in subsequent years, transitioning to a student-led effort, under the guidance of Dr. Deguzman. This year, the Mentor Program is executed by a dedicated student team under Program Director and USC Master of Urban Planning student, Reaghan Murphy.


The 2020-2021 program staff have the unique task of virtually operating the program due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While online interaction has been typical in many long-distance mentor partnerships, the Mentor Program team supports each student through new virtual program features. For example, each student is provided with best practices to establish and maintain a professional relationship and as well as suggested topics for their meetings with their mentor. A monthly newsletter features virtual events for pairs to attend together, including those put on by METRANS, such as the program's launch event Mentoring for Success in a Virtual World, which you can read about here. If this were not enough, METRANS facilitates a personal, virtual time for mentors and mentees to share a meal together. While a short ride down the Expo Line to Fig @ 7th may not be possible, pairs can enjoy a meal and each other’s company in the comfort of their own home, and with the compliments of METRANS.


Even in the few short months since the program launched for the academic year, mentees are finding value in their developing relationships. Xiaoling Fang, a USC graduate student in both the School of Architecture and Price School of Public Policy, reflected, "I would not be as confident as I am about my career development without the substantial support from my mentor Lynn [Feng, Transportation Planner, AECOM].”


The mentors, many of whom are alums of USC Price, provide support and inspiration to program participants. Their work across the transportation industry in planning, design, operations, or policy gives students insight into future interests and careers. Kevin Argueta, a student in the USC Price Master of Public Policy and Urban Planning programs, noted, “My mentor (John Cho, Senior Regional Planner at the Southern California Association of Governments) has been a great wealth of knowledge. Our match was spot on, and our similar research interest has helped create engaging conversations.”


After a decade of making connections, the METRANS Mentor Program has given students and mentors unique one-on-one interaction that otherwise may not have existed. Program Director Reaghan Murphy appreciates METRANS for "growing and supporting this space for students and young professionals. Mentorship is a fundamentally crucial part of increasing the diversity of perspectives and experiences held by transportation professionals," she adds.


About the author:

Jessica Brown is a junior studying Civil Engineering in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. She is a METRANS staff member and is Director of Operations for the METRANS Mentor Program.