News | WTS-OC Transportation Academy Proves the Value of Networking in a Virtual World

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by Zhaoyang (Zoey) Li, USC, Masters of Transportation Engineering 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many changes in the transportation industry, from how we travel to how and where we work and more. The pandemic has also affected how we network and connect with other transportation professionals and students. We’ve seen many virtual meetings to adapt to a remote-working environment, and the 11th Annual Transportation Academy, hosted by the Orange County Chapter of Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS-OC), was a brilliant testimony to not only the possibility but the success of virtual networking. WTS-OC’s two-week long program, which began in August, provided 25 undergraduate and graduate college students from seven universities with professional insights into transportation industry and the opportunity to connect with nearly 100 transportation professionals from numerous public agencies and private firms. Top executives from the industry shared first-hand transportation project experiences and advised students of timely career information and internship opportunities. Though this program has traditionally taken place in person, WTS-OC and the participating organizations pulled off a successful virtual initiative for students, who formed valuable and lasting connections with professionals.


Student participants of WTS-OC's 2020 Transportation Academy.


The public agencies and private transportation firms featured in the 2020 Transportation Academy included Kimley-Horn, Transportation Corridor Agencies, Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), WSP, Mark Thomas, TranSystems, Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), Los Angeles Metro, HNTB, and Michael Baker. Representative employees from each organization delivered engaging and informative presentations, including an overview of the agency or company, details of specific past or ongoing transportation projects, and information on how to apply for future opportunities. They also organized interactive activities for participants, including networking sessions, pop quizzes and quick online games, breakout room discussions, and group presentations. In small groups, students were able to meet with CEOs, HR representatives, executives, and even newly hired employees to gain a sense of the different roles that people play within each organization. Thanks to WTS-OC’s coordination efforts and various Zoom tools, students found the breakout rooms facilitated asking organization employees questions about their specific interests in the industry work, and requesting career advice and recommendations of technical skills to acquire. Each organization made a conscious effort to involve students in their descriptions of real-world projects and case studies, helping participants to develop further understandings of project processes and practical skills needed in the industry.


Breakout room discussion topics during Michael Baker International's presentation.


“This academy allowed me to get to know the importance of workplace inclusion and diversity,” noted Carline Hua, Master of Urban and Regional student from the University of California, Irvine. Farzana Khatun, UCI Transportation Science Ph.D. candidate, added, “this academy was not only a chance to meet some extraordinary transportation consultants and experts, but an exciting opportunity to meet these many soon-to-be transport experts – fellow students.” It is safe to say that this program encouraged emerging planners and engineers in transportation to consider becoming more involved in professional organizations like WTS-OC and to establish closer connections with fellow students as well.


The transportation industry has undergone many changes, along with our entire society, due to COVID-19. Surely, though, we’re learning how to navigate this virtual terrain together and leaning on one another to provide employment advice and support within the transportation field. WTS-OC’s 2020 Transportation Academy’s virtual format attempt could be defined as an unprecedented and meaningful one. The WTS-OC Transportation Academy gives students interested in the transportation industry the chance to know more about the many exciting careers in transportation-related fields. As one of the many students who benefited from the program, I sincerely thank WTS-OC, the practitioners who advised us, and the organizers who made the event possible. and highly recommend it to both students and professionals!


About the Author:

Zhaoyang (Zoey) Li is a first-year graduate student in the Master of Science in Transportation Engineering program at USC Viterbi. She works as a writer, event associate, and social media lead for METRANS.