In addition to the HOT Chapter's Annual Business Meeting, January brought us an update from Terry Cook, Williamson County Commissioner. She shared information regarding the ongoing long-term planning efforts for land use and transportation in Williamson County.
The February luncheon brought a new format to the HOT Chapter with a series of mini-roundtable sessions with TxDOT leaders, who were asked to share their career paths to success, as well as professional development tips. Event attendees kept their seats while TxDOT speakers rotated through several tables to meet and network with attendees. Special thanks to our TxDOT speakers, including:
  • Heather Ashley-Nguyen, P.E. - Advanced Project Development Director
  • Christiana Astarita, P.E. - Design-Build Project Manager 
  • Susan Chavez - Transportation Planning and Programming Project Development Manager
  • Ben Engelhardt, P.E. - Austin District Director of Construction
  • Erika Esparza - Management Analyst, Administration
  • Kristi Flagg, P.E. - Project Finance, Debt and Strategic Contract Management
  • Caroline Mays, ACIP - Freight and International Trade Section Director
  • Tonia Norman - Government Affairs Division Research Specialist
  • Adeliza Ramirez, P.E. - Transportation Engineer 
  • Marisabel Ramthun, P.E. - Austin District Transportation Planning and Programming Deputy Director
  • Peggy Thurin, P.E. - Transportation Planning and Programming Systems Planning Section Director 
  • Victor Vargas, P.E. - North Austin Area Engineer
  • Maureen Wakeland, P.E. - Program and Project Delivery Director, Information Management Division
Shane Harbinson serves as the Assistant Director, Airport Development and Envrionmental Programs for the City of Austin, Department of Aviation. He joined the HOT Chapter to provide an update on the Austin-Bergstrom Inernational Airport and the ongoing airport expansion. In addition to reviewing the history of the airport, Shane discussed the airport's future, the nature of working relationships with airlines, and fielded questions on a number of topics from future international direct flights to how TSA pre-check and other programs are impacting security operations in Austin.
The year is off to an exciting start and I look forward to trying some new things within our WTS chapter this year. We really enjoyed trying a brand new format at our February luncheon that let us all get to know TxDOT a little better at our speed networking event. A huge Thank You to TxDOT for participating and to Marisabel Ramthum, the Deputy TP&D Director at the Austin District, for helping us to plan the event.

Our primary initiatives for this year will be to 1) kick-off our pilot mentoring program, 2) establish a 501c3 foundation for our local chapter, and 3) increase our membership through innovative and interesting programs. Our goal is to be able to raise even more funds for our scholarships and Transportation You (youth programs) that benefit girls and young women in our community and encourage them to pursue careers in transportation. Our sponsors and partners continue to amaze me in your generosity and support of our efforts.

I am thrilled to kick off the pilot year of our mentoring program with 10 mentor-mentee pairs that I hope will bring great value to the participants in their career development. Our mentors and program speakers are excellent models for success in their fields and have volunteered to share their time, lessons learned and guidance to our program in order to help others. I can’t wait to report back at the end of the year and announce the program for a new class of mentees next year.

We will be very busy this Spring with our monthly luncheons, gala (April 27), and golf clinic (May 9) and look forward to making new connections. As always, please let me know if you are interested in getting involved! Thank you to all of our volunteers and partners that help us to grow our organization and the impact we have in our community.
WTS Heart of Texas Chapter v olunteers had a great time at UT's Girl Day 2018. The event has grown from only 92 participants in 2001 to more than 8,000 today. One mom told us that not only does her daughter attend Girl Day each year, she attends the HOT Chapter's event specifically because she loves building bridges! Special thanks to our volunteers and Mary Jo Galindo, who works hard each year to ensure this event is a success. Volunteers included:
  • Christian Escalante, Garver USA
  • Carolyn Cook, Federal Railroad Administration
  • Abby Smith, Alliance Transportation Group
  • Mary Jo Galindo, Pape-Dawson
  • Jamie Byers, Alliance Transportation Group
  • Odette Tan, Travis County
  • Steve Johnson, Garver USA
  • Danny Cortez, UT student
The 2018 Gala Committe hosted the chapter's first Kendra Scott Gives Back event. Twenty percent of proceeds from the store's evening sales went directly to the HOT chapter's scholarship funds. Chapter members enjoyed sips, sweets, jewels and fun. Thanks to everyone who came out or called in to support this fundraiser, which netted the Chapter more than $600!
Julie Lorenz leads strategic consulting services for the Transportation Group at Burns & McDonnell. With more than 25 years of experience in communications, public affairs and policy development in the transportation industry, Julie works to create strategies, programs and resources to drive infrastructure solutions for the future.
Under her leadership, Burns & McDonnell is working with TxDOT to improve the department’s Project Tracker, an online tool that provides transparency on more than 11,000 projects statewide. The effort has included reaching out to more than 7,450 stakeholders, more than 200,000 Twitter followers and multiple focus groups to understand expectations and devise upgrades for Project Tracker.

Julie is a longtime contributor for the Transportation Research Board (TRB), conducting groundbreaking research in scenario planning and innovation culture along with leading the first-ever 2018 War Game for TRB. She serves as co-champion of the Big 5 transportation initiative for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, a regional reimagining of resources and infrastructure to empower effective movement of people, freight and data for years to come. And she’s worked with state departments of transportation on stakeholder engagement and policy development initiatives, including a successful $8.2 billion, 10-year transportation program in Kansas.
Learn more about Burns & McDonnell online.
WSP, formerly Parsons Brinckerhoff, is one of the world’s leading engineering and professional services consulting firms with more than 500 offices across 40 countries worldwide. WSP brings the latest technologies and a culture of innovation to their work to meet community needs for mobility, connectivity, sustainability and resiliency.

Jessica Kessinger has been a WTS member since 2016 when she committed to serving as a Heart of Texas chapter board member. She earned both Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering from the University of Texas El Paso and has a wide range of expertise in traffic operation projects throughout the country. She is currently leading WSP’s traffic engineering group in Austin and is also leading the traffic engineering and planning efforts as part of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s GEC team. Jessica is committed to helping WTS fulfill their mission and is looking forward to increasing her involvement with the chapter.
Melanie Norrell has been an active member of the WTS Heart of Texas chapter since 2008. She previously served on the board as Communications Chair for four years and Vice President for two years.

Melanie has been involved in the chapter’s various pilot STEM program initiatives, and is participating in this year’s pilot professional mentorship program. She also volunteers regularly for fundraising, event planning, writing and graphic design needs for the scholarship, gala, and professional development committees, as well as previously held Texas-wide WTS conferences and the international conference which convened in Austin in 2016. 

As the national director of business development at AECOM, Melanie works with regional and market sector leads across AECOM’s Americas geography. She provides business management support for the $1.7B Transportation business line, including: strategic planning for organic growth, pipeline and forecasting development, statistical and financial intelligence for quarterly earnings reports, internal and external communications oversight, and national market analyses.

Melanie is also an author of AECOM’s newly established business development training initiative, and provides training facilitation and train-the-trainer guidance for this national program.

Ms. Norrell finds the women of the Heart of Texas chapter welcoming and inspiring, and is proud to contribute to the chapter’s growing programs, initiatives and membership.