What made you want to go into the transportation industry?
As far back as I can remember I wanted to be an engineer and I mean that sincerely. My father is an engineer, my sister became an engineer as well but ultimately went on to do something else. But for as long as I can remember, probably in elementary school, I wanted to be an engineer. I realized what I was good at and what I wasn’t good at and civil engineering appealed to me the most because I was fascinated with transportation and I always had a thing for cars. To be honest, until I came to the Florida Department of Transportation on the P.E. Trainee Program, I didn’t really know what kind of civil engineering I wanted to do. I had explored lots of different options when I was at the University of Florida and decided to join the Florida Department of Transportation to find what area interested me the most. It was a great opportunity to find my niche at FDOT.
What is your favorite aspect of working in the transportation industry?
It’s working with so many different types of people on so many different types of projects. It’s the opportunity to not only engage with our internal staff but our expanded staff, our consultants and our contractors; it’s working with the public whether they be our local metropolitan planning organizations, our elected officials or the people who are the users of our system. I’ve been able to work on some really challenging projects over the years and it’s been those experiences that kept me coming back.
What has been your favorite experience in your career?
That one’s kind of hard. I’ve had a very long career at FDOT. I’d probably have to say one of the things that stands out the most was something that happened when I was a senior engineer trainee working in the Design Office. I was working on a project and the project manager asked me to give a presentation to a homeowners’ association. I was a junior engineer at the time working on a resurfacing project. I remember the project manager saying, “I’d like you to give the presentation.” I’m standing in the front of the room, talking. People start asking questions and I’m starting to get a little nervous because I feel like I have to defend the design we’d done. At the end of it, I remember one of the audience members walked up to me and said, “You know, you did a great presentation, and now I’m going to critique you.” I said, “Excuse me?” He said, “I’m going to tell you what you did right and what you did wrong.” I said, “On the design?” He said, “No, your speaking skills!” That really stuck with me, that not only was the engineering aspect very important but how we conveyed the information. People were listening to us on a broader level – how we interact with the public. It really meant something to me that this person came up to me afterward and wanted to critique my public speaking skills. I took that to heart and made it an important aspect of my skill set. I’ve gotten quite comfortable with the ability to speak in public extemporaneously or about a specific project. I think that one experience probably helped me more than any other at FDOT; that project manager changed my career by having me do that presentation.
What do you hope to accomplish in your new role?
I am really excited about the opportunity to be the Assistant Secretary for Finance and Administration. I’ve held a variety of different roles in District Four that allowed me to combine my engineering skills with the opportunity to learn the Work Program and the finances for the Department. I was the first Program Management Engineer in the State of Florida and I had the luxury of doing that job for many years before it was incorporated into Central Office and the other Districts. I’ve learned a lot from that experience, marrying the engineering and financing.
After getting to know everyone, my focus is going to be ensuring the voices of the Districts are heard and their needs are met through our processes. I’ve enjoyed meeting and talking to everyone I’ve met to date and everyone seems really excited to move forward with the Governor’s and Secretary’s initiatives.
Who is one person who has impacted you during your time at FDOT?
There’s probably three people who stand out the most.
- Rick Chesser who was my first District Secretary in District Four. Rick is just an amazing individual. He has such a great demeanor and an ability to work with people to solve problems and find solutions. I learned a great deal from him and watching him in his interactions.
- Gerry O’Reilly who is our current District Four Secretary. He promoted me into the position of Program Management Engineer which was brand new at the time. We weren’t quite sure what this new department was going to become and he tapped me to lead that effort. I thought that was a big leap of faith on his part and my part. He has been with me every step of the way as he moved on from Director to Secretary, moving me up from department manager to Director. He has been a huge influence on my career and how I’ve matured as an engineer and individual.
- Joe Borello who was the project manager on the project I mentioned earlier. He was my design section leader many years ago and I really learned how to be an engineer from Joe. He was amazing at spotting talent and training us. Many people in District Four and throughout DOT have learned how to be an engineer from Joe. I feel I would not be as strong in my engineering skills had he not been my section leader in Design.
What advice do you have for FDOT staffers that have three years or less with FDOT to help them be as successful as possible?
First and foremost, understand they have joined an amazing agency. I often talk about the fact that no matter what you do at FDOT, you influence millions of people’s lives every day and that’s something to be truly proud of. It’s an honor to be a civil servant for the state of Florida and to provide transportation and the economic opportunities that we do through transportation. Be a sponge. Observe everything around you. Ask questions. Challenge our processes in a thoughtful manner. See things with fresh eyes. Ask questions about how we can do things better or why we do our work the way we do. It doesn’t matter if you’re out in construction or if you’re in the planning office or if you’re building facilities. Look at things with a fresh perspective and think about how we can do our business more efficiently and effectively. We’re in a very changing culture outside the Department and internally, and we should always look to tweak our processes for the better. Challenge yourself to come up with new ways of doing what you’re being taught at the Department and help us move forward.
If you weren’t in this industry, what would you be doing?
I probably would become a certified Pilates instructor. I’ve been doing Pilates in my spare time for the last 17 or 18 years.