Making a Difference in the Community Through Transportation
Civil Engineer, Pierce County
When Courtney Pompa lived in Germany a few years ago, working as a civil engineer for the U.S. Army, she was struck by the variety of transportation options available there.
“I was really inspired,” she said. “You didn’t always have to choose your car. There was an abundance of choices, such as rail, bike trails or the ability to walk.”
So when Courtney returned to the United States, she decided to enroll in the UW Master of Sustainable Transportation degree program. She graduated in 2016 and is now a transportation engineer for Pierce County.
“I learned so much in the program, and now I’m able to take what I've learned and bring perspective to my job and the community that we serve,” she said. “I feel the degree helped get me to where I need to be.”
Can you talk a bit about your job and the work you do?
Right now I’m a transportation engineer with Pierce County Planning and Public Works. My main duties include development and maintenance of the Americans with Disabilities Act transition plan for the public right-of-way. This includes developing and scheduling improvement projects to support the priorities and goals of the transition plan. I'm also involved in grant writing and grant administration for projects that are expected to positively impact the county’s transportation network. I feel fortunate to work with many professionals hoping to make a positive difference in transportation.
Why did you choose the Master of Sustainable Transportation program?
It was both the transportation and sustainability aspects, in the sense of what can we do better — how can we be less wasteful and give choices of various transportation modes. In some places in the United States you do have to use your vehicle, but there are places where we can give other options. I like the ability to have choices, efficient systems and networks.
How did you find that the program fit in with your life and other commitments?
I enjoyed the flexibility with my work — I was able to work full time. We had one live class a week, but beyond that I could do homework and listen to recorded lectures as they fit into my schedule. I really liked the control of managing my coursework when I wanted to do it, and it taught me to manage my time better.
What was the online experience like for you?
I think it allowed for very diverse classmates and professors. We had classmates calling and logging in from Germany, from Turkey, from New Jersey. I enjoyed seeing what others are doing and how they approached different problems.
It also brought forth a lot of current technology. It really helped that it was online — it motivated me to do it.
Can you explain your capstone project?
We had to pick a city or region and come up with a sustainability plan. We could take what they already had and then build off of that, and see if there were other things the city could be doing. It was a fun challenge to be able to come up with a strategic plan, to take all the coursework that we learned and be able to plug it in where a city did not have enough data or had room for improvement regarding sustainable applications.
Do you think that earning this degree was a factor in landing this job?
I think it definitely helped, absolutely. Having additional experience in the transportation industry definitely helps, especially when I’m working with the city doing traffic and transportation engineering.
What do you see as your role in the future of the field?
With the knowledge from the program and my new position, I hope to make a difference for the public, myself and future generations when it comes to the transportation system – giving people options and having accessible, efficient connections and reliable systems. Transportation is so important, and it impacts everyone that decides to leave their home on a daily basis.