Supporting Women in Transportation: ITS-Davis Students Launch UC Davis’ First WTS Student Chapter

By Alicia Nguyen

Already known for excellence in transportation research and education, UC Davis now has its own WTS student chapter to help women network and advance their professional careers.

Founded in February by students in the ITS-Davis hosted Transportation Technology and Policy graduate program, the chapter’s formation was initiated by master’s student Sarah Strand with the goal of supporting young women interested in pursuing a career in transportation. After Sarah shared her vision, master’s classmate Albee Wei joined the cause to help other UC Davis transportation students create meaningful connections.

Founded as the Women’s Transportation Seminar 40 years ago, WTS is an international organization with chapters across the U.S. WTS is dedicated to building the future of transportation through the global advancement of women. WTS has more than 6,500 members, including both women and men, and offers professional networks, leadership skills, and educational opportunities to help women advance their careers.

“The driving mission behind WTS is to support women in the transportation industry because it is historically male dominated,” said Strand. “Currently 47% of the US workforce is comprised of women, yet only 13% of the transportation industry is. Women transportation professionals can expect to be paid less than 80 cents on the dollar for the same work completed by a man in the industry.”

WTS officers (from left to right) Eleni Jacobson, Erina Kitamura, Albee Wei, Sarah Strand, Farnaz Feizi (not pictured: Aditi Meshram)

The WTS UC Davis student chapter held its kick-off meeting in February soliciting feedback from interested members to help develop programs that directly respond to student needs and interests. Strand reported a great turnout with attendees spanning a broad spectrum of professional backgrounds, disciplines, and academic levels. Attendees expressed strong interest in career development and professional networking opportunities for transportation students, including resume-building workshops, mock interviews, project tours, and presentations from invited speakers.

WTS UC Davis is the fourteenth WTS student chapter founded nationwide and only the fourth in California—preceded by San Diego State University, Cal Poly Pomona, and UCLA. Both Strand and Wei were inspired to start the WTS student chapter after participating in WTS as professionals prior to attending UC Davis. Strand witnessed the formation of California’s first WTS student chapter while working as a regional transportation planner in San Diego three years ago.

“I worked with a couple of graduate students who founded the first student chapter in the state at SDSU and I saw what an excellent resource it was for young women and how fulfilling the experience was for my colleagues” said Strand, who became active with WTS in San Diego. “So two years ago—once I knew I’d attend graduate school at the Institute for Transportation Studies—I confirmed that there wasn’t a WTS student chapter or any similar organization on campus and made it a personal goal to bring this important resource to UC Davis before I graduated.“

Similarly, Wei shared that she first learned about WTS through colleagues while working for an engineering firm in Sacramento. “Many engineers and planners in my company are involved with the WTS Sacramento chapter and they have a great opportunity to get to know other transportation professionals, so I knew WTS was a great resource,” said Wei. “When Sarah said she wanted to start a WTS [student chapter] I was immediately onboard because I know members of our chapter will benefit from the professional and personal connections they form through WTS, both now and after they graduate.”

Strand recently participated in the inaugural WTS Sacramento Mentorship program and was awarded scholarships by the Sacramento chapter two years in a row. This academic year, she received the WTS Sacramento 2017 Leadership Legacy Scholarship and Wei was the honorary recipient of the Helene M. Overly Memorial Graduate Scholarship. In previous years, other UC Davis women transportation students have been similarly honored by WTS Sacramento.

In addition to developing new on campus resources for transportation students, Strand and Wei want to encourage greater student participation in WTS Sacramento and guide students to the many benefits and programs provided by their sister organization, including scholarships, mentorship programs, and networking opportunities. They also realized, however, that attending Sacramento chapter events can prove difficult for students who lack transportation or are unable to fit meetings into their academic schedules.

“As students here at UC Davis, we recognize some of the challenges to participating in Sacramento chapter events because they’re often held all over the region, so it’s limiting, especially if you don’t have a car,” said Strand. “And so we thought it would be valuable to have a resource here on campus that’s much more accessible to students at all levels.”

Both women hope that WTS at UC Davis will better connect students, faculty and researchers, and transportation professionals in the region. They believe the student chapter will help to advance young women in the transportation in the industry by reaching out to them early on in their careers.

“By joining WTS, students get an advantage that hopefully helps them to not only become leaders in the transportation industry, but also a lifelong WTS members,” said Strand. “Professionals who will continue to reach down to mentor other young women in transportation in the future.”

Both Strand and Wei emphasized that, despite the name, WTS at UC Davis does not restrict membership to women. In fact, they strongly encouraged men to get involved in the chapter. “Men who are sensitive to women in the workplace help make a better environment for everybody,” said Wei. “And employers who see potential in women will get more benefits because there’s a whole pool of talented women out there.”

Strand and Wei expressed appreciation to National Center for Sustainable Director, Professor Susan Handy, who will be acting as their faculty advisor, as well as to the WTS Sacramento chapter for providing financial support and helping to navigate the WTS chapter formation process.

“The WTS Sacramento Chapter has been our sister chapter throughout the entire process, championing us every step of the way and helping to make us successful,” said Strand.
The WTS UC Davis student chapter held their first official board meeting on March 3 and will hold back-to-back events in late-April:

• Career Exploration Panel on Friday, April 28 bringing transportation professionals to campus to share their career experiences with students.
• “Bike Social” inviting interested members on a Saturday, April 29 bike ride around Davis, followed by refreshments.

You can follow the new UC Davis WTS chapter at https://www.facebook.com/wtsucdavis/

To contact the chapter: wtsucd@gmail.com.