Kate Sargent, GSAPP 07
Please briefly describe your current position in more detail, including your responsibilities and job tasks:
I am a Senior Transit Planner at Sam Schwartz Engineering, which is a transportation planning and engineering firm. In our Transit Department, we mostly focus on bus and bus rapid transit work for public agencies, though we have done some work on rail projects, shuttle services and congestion pricing and tolling work. In my position, I mostly manage the various projects in our department. That involves everything from client relations and reviewing deliverables to the administrative and billing aspects of the projects. Lately, I have also had the opportunity to get more involved with bicycle planning projects, which is an interest of mine.
Please briefly describe your career path, including the reasons behind job changes, since graduating from Columbia University:
I have been at this firm since I started there as an intern. I have been there full time since December 2008. I have found that at a small firm, I've had the opportunity to pursue my interests and take on more responsibility. I believe that the size of the firm is also conducive to recognizing hard work and potential. I may find it advantageous to work in the public sector at some point during my career, but for the time being I feel like I am still moving forward and have more to learn in my current position.
How did your experiences at Columbia University (e.g., academic studies, extra-curricular activities, student groups) prepare you for your career?:
Good writing skills are very important in my current position and field and I feel that several of my classes focused on good professional writing skills. Also, I found that getting a good internship was the best way to a good job. Securing a good internship was dependent on having skills with various design programs such as CAD, Illustrator, Photoshop and GIS--the more the better--and I learned several of these during school. I largely acquired management skills in other positions before graduate school and professional judgment can only be learned on the job.
What job resources (internships, summer opportunities, work experiences, or individuals) have influenced your career choice(s)?:
My first internship was at Saratoga Associates, a general planning and landscape architecture firm. As I was interested in transportation, I decided to pursue a transportation planning internship to see how I liked it. I definitely recommend using internships to explore potential interests. That turned out to be the path that I pursued for a full time position. Once you get one good internship; it's that much easier to get subsequent ones.
What advice would you give to a Columbia student or graduate interested in your field?:
Obtain good graphics and writing skills, become well read and well versed in transportation planning and engineering issues and news, go to events hosted by professional organizations and start talking to people, and do informational interviews with organizations or firms that you are interested in.