Mentoring is at the heart of the Transportation YOU initiative. Mentorship exposes girls to opportunities in transportation fields early, inspires them to set high goals, and provides girls with the tools to succeed academically and, eventually, professionally. WTS International sat down with a mentorship pair from the WTS Atlanta Chapter’s Transportation YOU program, Heidi Schneider, Science Project Engineer at HNTB Corporation, and her mentee, Casey Manders, who is in 12th grade at Henry W. Grady High School, to find out more about how they met and the journey they are on together in transportation.
Heidi, tell us about the work that you do in the transportation industry.
I am a science project manager for a national engineering firm called HNTB Corporation. My background and expertise are in the field of ecology and permitting regulations. I work primarily with the government transportation sector which includes Georgia Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Rail Administration, and transportation departments for counties and municipalities. I work on a variety of projects, including community sidewalks, multi-use paths, bridge replacements, and highway expansions. I work with engineers to help minimize and avoid impacts to the environment.
What motivated you to be a mentor for Transportation YOU?
I love working with young adults and school-aged children, and I believe in giving back to my community through personal actions. However, the most important reason that I volunteer is that I see the value and need for young women to be exposed to potential career opportunities. As a mentor, the relationship creates an open forum for sharing life experiences and aiding in decisions that affect college and career choices.
Casey, what motivated you to be a mentee for Transportation YOU? What do you hope to gain?
I wanted to see if this was going to be what I wanted as a career. I hope to gain more knowledge about transportation and the different fields it offered.
Did you have any mentors when you were starting out in the industry, Heidi?
When I graduated from college with a dual degree in wildlife and environmental science, the field was—and still is—dominated by men. It was also a relatively new field for work. All of my college professors were male. My first full-time environmental scientist job was working with all men. I had no idea what an “environmental scientist” did for a living when I got my first job. I accidentally found the job when a friend’s father gave me business cards of engineering companies that did environmental permitting and said to just send in resumes. I was not exposed to female mentors until much later in my career. I would have appreciated an opportunity, such as the one that Transportation YOU provides, to meet other professional women and learn about their careers and career paths.
How did you two meet?
Heidi: I met Casey three years ago when the WTS Atlanta Chapter started a partnership with the female students of the Grady High School Robotics team as part of our Transportation YOU program. Casey is very outgoing and intelligent. She stood out right away.
What do you talk about?
Heidi: We have discussed many different subjects ranging from Casey’s summer job, to our families, to our hobbies. Since she is getting ready to start college, we’ve talked about selection criteria for the right school for her, scholarship funding, and networking to visit a few out-of-state colleges. We’ve also talked about how she has shown initiative beyond her years with finding internships while still in high school and taking on leadership roles, such as the 2015 Transportation YOU U.S. Summit Youth Leader.
Casey, how would you describe Heidi as a mentor, and what do you admire about her?
She is a wonderful and very smart person. She wants to see me succeed and is there to help me with anything I need. I admire that she will help me or try to help me with things I need.
How often do you meet?
Casey: We meet regularly during the chapter’s Transportation YOU monthly meetings, unless there is a special event coming up or if I want to visit a college within driving range. Also we keep in contact via email and texting.
How has the Transportation YOU mentorship program influenced you, Casey?
The program has given me support through all of the activities I do. It has also inspired me to plan on majoring in Civil Engineering to hopefully one day work in transportation.
What do you think are the benefits of having a mentor?
Casey: Knowing that someone will always be there for me, and will try to help me when I need it.
Does your chapter have other kinds of Transportation YOU programs happening?
Heidi: The WTS Atlanta Chapter is currently in the middle of its 5-year plan for Transportation YOU. Since this is year three, the program is focusing on expanding Transportation YOU to other Grady High School female students both within and outside of the robotics team. Also, we are concentrating on developing a transportation theme for each year which has mini-lessons at each meeting. Over the course of the next two years, the goal is to expand to other schools.
Heidi, what is the one best piece of advice you can offer to a young woman who is considering entering the transportation industry?
I would advise her to talk to as many different people as possible in the field of transportation. Ask each person about their journey to get into their career. Then follow up by asking if they know one person in the transportation industry or their company that does a different job. Then ask to talk to that person. There are so many different careers related to transportation. Who knows…maybe you thought you wanted to be an engineer until you met someone who does planning. Now you are set on a different path in life!
What is the best piece of advice Heidi has given you, Casey?
To follow my dreams no matter how hard it will be. If you really want something, you should work hard for it to achieve it.
Do you have any advice for other women in transportation who may be interested in mentoring, Heidi?
It is special if you can connect with a young woman and become a mentor for her. However, mentoring should not just be for the students, be open to the idea of receiving or sharing mentoring with other women in WTS or the field of transportation. This should be a sisterhood network that lasts a lifetime.