APTF Scholar Spotlight 

Since its inception in 1988 the American Public Transportation Foundation has awarded over $1,000,000 in scholarships in pursuit of the APTF's mission of increase and retain the number of individuals choosing the transit field as a career. This spotlight shines on the scholars and professionals who have received awards and shares how they have progressed in the industry. 


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Amanda Vandegrift
HDR, Project Financial Consultant
2012 APTF Scholarship Recipient​
Describe your role and the work that you do. 
I assist public transportation providers with developing financial strategies to advance their major capital improvements. I work all over the country, and my role changes significantly from project to project. I have primarily specialized in identifying and screening potential federal, state, local, and private revenue sources for major capital projects, matching potential sources to project elements, preparing conceptual financial scenarios, conducting high-level cash flow analyses, and selecting, prioritizing, and positioning projects for federal grants and loans. I absolutely love my job because what I do gets down to the core of what is required to advance much needed public transportation infrastructure and ultimately improve mobility, accessibility, and quality of life in communities across our country. We can put a wealth of visionary plans on the shelf, but we won’t be able to implement them until we develop a sustainable funding strategy and financial plan.
Why public transportation? 
Public transportation is a key element to providing true mobility and accessibility to millions of Americans. While decision makers generally seem open to investing their limited transportation dollars in highway and roadway improvements, the benefits and costs of public transportation remain a hotly debated topic in communities across the country. Many of these communities have been designed around the motor vehicle, making changes in planning and investment in other modes a difficult barrier to overcome. I have watched this issue rise and fall countless times in my hometown of Atlanta. While the region is currently making enormous strides, there is still so much work to be done. Planning for mobility and accessibility rather than prioritizing the movements of a single mode can change a community for the better, providing residents and visitors with enhanced access to jobs and schools, an affordable alternative to driving, increased reliability, reduced congestion, lower emissions, and improved health. I have dedicated my career to helping communities find the funds necessary to achieve these benefits. I haven’t “worked” a day in my career thus far, and feel beyond blessed to have found a career that is also my passion.
How did receiving an APTF Scholarship enhance or make a difference in your career? 
Receiving an APTF Scholarship was far more than receiving the much-needed financial support for my education. I attended the APTA Annual Conference and EXPO to accept my award, and was instantly propelled into the APTA family. I have met a number of APTA members who were instrumental in my career. I was hired by one of those members, Jennifer Mitchell, into my first job as a financial consultant at Parsons Brinckerhoff. I worked for three years as a specialist in transit and rail funding and financing, and was blessed to make an impact on some of the most significant projects in the nation, including the Gateway Program in New York City. I later met my current manager and industry giant, Sharon Greene, through APTA. She has been a huge supporter and role model in my career, and it is an honor to work directly with her as we assist our clients with advancing their transit priorities. I hope to follow in her footsteps and learn all I can from her leadership as I continue to take on additional responsibilities in the industry.  
What does the future of public transportation look like from your vantage point?
From my perspective, the future of public transportation looks bright. Many communities are realizing the benefits of investing in their public transportation and bicycle and pedestrian facilities. A growing number of communities have passed significant tax initiatives for public transportation. Transportation investment in general is becoming less of a partisan issue on the federal and state levels. And of course the looming tide of technological advances has the potential to generate significant improvements in mobility and accessibility if accurately executed. Public transportation will always play a key role in our transportation system, and we will need to be proactive in positioning ourselves for the future. I’m honestly quite excited to see where the next decade will take us as an industry.
What would readers be surprised to learn about you? 
I was the first person from my family to graduate from college. I grew up in rural Georgia in a large, blue-collar family of nine. As a kid, I was always trying to show that I was just as good or better than the boys, which is likely why I ultimately decided to study engineering.
How can the industry encourage more young professionals to seek careers in public transportation? 
I believe investing in programs like APTF is a wonderful way to encourage young professionals to seek careers in public transportation. The program had a direct and lasting impact on my career and was a big part of why and how I was able to break into the field. One big piece of advice I have is don’t forget to reach back and help someone else up the ladder. It is never too early to start mentoring someone. Besides, it makes you feel really good to help someone advance in their career and grow as a professional. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for those key individuals, who are all active APTA members, pushing me forward in the right directions at the right times. I met many of these members as a direct result of APTF.
What is the biggest disruptor to this industry and how can we capitalize on it to make transit even better? 
The biggest disrupters on our horizon are technological advances such as transportation network companies (TNCs) and autonomous and connected vehicles (AV/CV). I believe we have an opportunity to capitalize on these technological advances by proactively partnering with these newcomers to complement and improve access to existing public transportation services. Our industry needs to begin adapting to the reality that these technologies are already a key piece of our evolving transportation system, and will only become more prominent as AV/CV technology continues to enter the marketplace over the next decade.
How do you stay engaged in APTA? 
I try to attend at least one conference a year in addition to submitting abstracts to present my work as often as possible.



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Kelly Glenn

Service Planner, Sound Transit
Seattle, WA
2016 APTF Board Scholarship Recipient
 
Why public transportation? 
Transportation, for better or worse, impacts everyone’s daily life. I’ve lived car-free for seven years while living in three different states, and my experience with public transportation has varied widely. Public transportation has given me the opportunities to visit friends and family, support myself financially while in school, live in a big city like New York, and even just relax and read a book on my way to work.  All this and more has been possible because of public transportation. While living in New York, I realized my penchant for providing subway directions to tourists could be useful in a career where it was important to understand routes and connections and my interest for public transit flourished.  

 
What are your career goals for the next five years, and longer term? 
I’ve already accomplished one goal – getting a job! After I graduate in May, I’ll be working as a service planner at Sound Transit in Seattle. I’m looking forward to being part of various innovative projects that are transforming Seattle into a transit-friendly city, such as the expansion of the light rail and the BRT network. Seattle is an ever-growing city with a lot of momentum moving forward. I am excited to contribute to the service that makes getting around the city via public transportation more accessible, and not just in and out of downtown. 

As for long term goals, I hope to obtain a managerial position which will allow me to further develop my leadership skills. I also enjoy public speaking, and I’d like to hold a position where I can present regularly to large audiences about my work in the transit industry. 
 
How do you plan to leverage your scholarship to help you reach your career goal? 
This scholarship has already helped me reach various career goals by allowing me to attend the APTA conference and discover the wide range of careers that involve public transit. I am about to start my first post-grad school job in transit, and I believe that being awarded this scholarship has given me the confidence to explore more of those options. 
 
How can the industry encourage more young professionals to seek careers in public transportation?
I believe my generation needs to know that public transit has a future and will continue to be funded if they are going to invest their careers in it. With the rise of new technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, people are speculating that we may not need transit anymore. I don’t believe that to be true, but we do need to continue to show the world why public transit is so important in many people’s lives.
 
What does the future of public transportation look like from your vantage point? 
Public transportation is as relevant today as it has ever been. With city populations expanding and growing income inequality, public transit will be changing as well. As an industry, we need to improve ways to leverage technology to help solve the “first and last mile” issue and how to integrate with TNCs, car share, and bike share. Public transit is still the most efficient way to transport many people with minimal congestion, and even the most efficient single-occupancy vehicles in the world couldn’t supersede that. 

What would readers be surprised to learn about you? 
I love to swing dance!
 
What would you tell APTA members who don’t know much about the APTF? 
The APTF is putting public transportation on students’ radars and is encouraging young people to get involved. It has also raised awareness among our family and friends who were not aware that public transit was its own industry. And, of course, the scholarship has been a tremendous help. 
 
 

 
 

FullSizeRender.jpgErin Shumate
Senior Manager, Training and Events
Eno Center for Transportation 
2016 Jerome C. Premo Scholarship Recipient

  

Why public transportation? 

I fell into public transportation, like most do in the industry, and look up to the people who work in it and the mission that they strive towards. Public transportation is a servant leadership industry, where the people in it have the responsibility of serving the public and helping all individuals get to where they need to go. 
 
What are your career goals for the next five years, and longer term? 
My short-term goal is to become the Deputy Director for the Eno Center for Transportation Leadership. In this role, I would be the program manager for Eno’s transit-specific leadership courses (Transit Mid-Manager Seminar, Transit Senior Executive Program, and Eno MAX) as well as a facilitator of content throughout the courses. I hope to eventually transition to working for a public-sector agency, running the Organizational Development department to promote workforce development at the agency level. 

How do you plan to leverage your scholarship to help you reach your career goals? 
I plan to use this scholarship toward my master’s degree to better understand the business side of running a leadership program as well as the operations necessary to run an organization or department within the transit agency. This scholarship has provided me the opportunity to network with many APTA members who work in the Organizational Development field at various agencies across the country and what they are doing to further the industry. 
 
How can the industry encourage more young professionals to seek careers in public transportation? 
The industry could improve upon how they advertise the availability of various occupations within public transit. There could be more awareness of jobs in administration, policy, government affairs, etc., not just trade specific positions. As a young individual, I was not aware of all the opportunities to work in public transportation, although I rode it frequently. Throughout my educational career, I was never introduced to the jobs transit had to offer, either through job fairs or classroom speakers. Public transit, as an industry, should make the effort to get more young people educated and involved.  

What does the future of public transportation look like from your vantage point? 
The future of public transportation, in my opinion, is wide open. With so many new advancing technologies, such as Uber, autonomous vehicles, high speed rail, etc., public transportation must adapt and innovate to keep up with the ever-changing uses of public transportation. 
 
What would readers be surprised to learn about you? 
I am a native to the Washington, D.C. area, growing up in Alexandria, VA. D.C. is such a large transplant city that it is always surprising to find another true local. 
 
How do you stay engaged in APTA? (committee work, attending conferences, standards, etc.) 
I stay engaged in APTA in several ways. I am a member of the 2017 Emerging Leaders Program and am an active committee member of the Workforce Development Committee. Eno and APTA have a partnership and work together toward the goal of educating today’s workforce into becoming tomorrow’s leaders. Through the partnership, I attend APTA conferences and exhibits to spread the word about the Eno transit leadership classes. ​
 

   

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Sean Varsolona
Transportation Planner II
AECOM
2013 Richard J. Bouchard Scholarship Recipient

 
Describe your role and the work that you do. 
 

My official title is Transportation Planner II with AECOM. The project that brought me on board is the Focus40 project for MassDOT/MBTA, for which I am one of the lead planners. In addition, I provide planning support to other projects that AECOM is a part of. These include the CT Safe Routes to School and traffic related work for a new casino opening in Everett, MA​.

 

Why public transportation? 
I grew up loving trains. When I was a senior at Swarthmore College I studied abroad in Copenhagen and absolutely admired how well their entire transit system runs. When I returned to Swarthmore for my senior spring semester, I took Urban Economics, which ended up being my favorite class during undergrad. Then, after working a few years in the finance industry, I realized my passion was with transportation and specifically, public transportation. I researched graduate schools for Urban Planning and luckily, Rutgers (the public university of my home state) was very highly ranked for its master’s program in City and Regional Planning. Attending that program was one of the greatest life decisions I have ever made.

 

How did receiving an APTF Scholarship enhance or make a difference in your career? 
Aside from gaining great friendships with the other scholarship winners in my year--many of whom I still speak with--the biggest benefit I gained was getting one-on-one experience with true transit experts. It opened doors for me on a professional front. My scholarship was sponsored by AECOM, my current firm, and I am certain the connections gained, and respect I earned with AECOM employees, allowed me to earn my current position.  

 
What does the future of public transportation look like from your vantage point?
Statistics tells us that millennials want to move out of the suburbs and back to the cities where their entire lives can be lived within a subway, train or bus ride. Due to this, I see that the need for strong public transit is greater than ever. The North-South Rail Link in Boston is a project that I greatly hope to see come to fruition. Getting a one-seat ride from Lowell (my current city and the northern terminus of an MBTA commuter rail line) to Providence, Rhode Island, would be a great way to unlock jobs, culture and a wide range of other positives.   
 
 
What would readers be surprised to learn about you?
When I am not at AECOM or out with friends, I like to produce my own music and shoot photography. They are hobbies that provide a creative release and keep my mind working in ways that I feel also benefit my work.  That was another benefit of studying abroad. While in Copenhagen, I took a creative industries course where the professor emphasized the importance of artistic thought to drive creation in industries that might be unrelated. The importance of “thinking outside the box” in our industry is, in my opinion, very important to achieve societal goals and I feel that these two hobbies help give me various perspectives on how to approach solutions to problems.
 
 
How can the industry encourage more young professionals to seek careers in public transportation? 

More colleges and universities should offer classes that are related to transit or urban life that can help students understand how public transportation is beneficial to the community. As an economics major, Urban Economics was the one class that made me say, “Yes, this is what I really want to be doing in my life.” Additionally, I feel that the shift back to city life in younger generations inherently leads one to appreciate a strong public transportation system. Suburbs are more auto-centric, whereas cities thrive when supplemented by a strong public transit system.