Name: Bethany Whitaker
Hometown: Burlington, Vermont
Title/Position: Principal/Transit Sector Co-Lead
Briefly describe your role:
I’m a consultant and specialize in public transportation. I work with clients and communities around the United States to plan, design and implement transit services. Most of my clients are transit agencies but I also work with State Departments of Transportation, cities and counties and planning organizations. I love managing projects, especially large complex ones that have lots of stakeholders with competing needs.
I also co-lead Nelson \ Nygaard’s transit sector, which is one of our practice areas. In this role I’m responsible for strategic planning, business development and making sure our work stays relevant.
Q: Is what you’re doing now what you always pictured you would do?
A: In some ways yes and in others no. I always imagined a career in government and public policy, but I didn’t expect to work as a consultant or in transportation. I did want to do something with the environment, but I can’t say transportation was in my career plans. But, I will say it is a great fit for me!. I love that transportation is part of nearly every issue facing society – when we design and build safe, accessible, public transportation systems we address issues related public health, equity, climate change, community development and economic progress.
Q: What do you see as the greatest challenges for women in your chosen industry? What are the greatest opportunities?
A: Public transportation traditionally was a sort of a public works type of service and was largely dominated by men. It tended to have a more traditional engineering and systems perspective. But, transit is becoming more dynamic and we’re understanding that we need systems that work for people. This new approach is creating opportunities for diverse perspectives and skill sets. I’m seeing women succeed in this environment.
Q: Who has inspired you in your life/career?
A: My husband for sure – he’s one of the most patient, thoughtful, and confident people I’ve ever met and these are all qualities I aspire to. He’s also a mountain climber and of course, you have to be patient, thoughtful and confident to climb a mountain. I’ve been out with him a few times and its always so amazing and inspiring that you can walk to the top of a mountain. It literally embodies the one step at a time mentality and makes me feel like I can do anything. Plus, I really love being outdoors. And, when I’m outside it makes me more inspired to protect the environment.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring professional?
A: Pursue a career in public transportation! It is such an interesting and important field. It is also an exciting time because things are changing rapidly. There is room for people with all kinds of skills and there’s a lot to do.
Another piece of advice is to be patient. It’s not easy but looking back at my career I can see some of my biggest mistakes involved acting too quickly. I’m learning the importance and value of waiting a minute before judging, speaking and acting.
Q: What’s been your secret to success?
A: Three things: hardwork, teamwork and enthusiasm. Hard work is fundamental to success, we all know that. Teamwork is also part of success. I’ve had help accomplishing I’ve ever done. Finally, I love that quote that says nothing great has ever been accomplished without enthusiasm.