Boots on the ground in Roads

A woman in my neighborhood and I have daughters who are college age.  When we meet, we talk about our kids. Late last spring, she told me that her daughter, Thu, was graduating from high school.

She proudly showed me pictures of the ceremony, and of Thu’s co-valedictorian medal. Impressed, I asked what Thu was planning to do over the summer before heading to the University of Washington, where she’d been accepted as an Engineering major.

“Well,” her mom said, “She will just be hanging around the house, but I want for her to find a volunteer job.”

My mind stumbled over this apparent contradiction and waste. A co-valedictorian at a 3A high school who wasn’t headed for an ivy-league STEM camp or internship? Did the fact that her parents were immigrants for whom English is a second language have anything to do with this?

Fortunately, I work for the Road Services Division (RSD) of the Department of Transportation, where Equity and Social Justice are tangible. I approached my supervisor, Ruth Harvey, about the prospect of finding an internship opportunity for Thu. Ruth was immediately supportive, as was everyone we dealt with over the next few weeks to get arrangements in place.

Thu roads photo 3

Assistant Maintenance Operations Manager Joann Kosai-Eng, P.E., with Summer Intern Thu Phan, August 2015

By July, Thu was learning and working in a professional office environment—on tasks ranging from GIS edits to processing financial records. She caught on so quickly that her supervisor, GIS Journey James Bach, was soon reaching out to other work groups to keep the learning pipeline filled.

Engineers in the Maintenance and Engineering Services sections took her to the field to see storm water projects and observe a bridge inspection. We mentored her in business correspondence and interviewing.

Meanwhile, she contributed to our work—bringing fresh eyes, an incredible work ethic, and a drive to learn. She definitely did her part to demonstrate that the future is in good hands!

Thu entered the UW last fall not just as a high school graduate, but as a young professional–more skilled, poised, and confident than she’d have been without a summer of working shoulder to shoulder with a diverse group of inspiring professionals.

I am proud to work at King County.


Stephanie MacLachlanStephanie MacLachlan is a managing engineer with the Road Services Division of the King County Department of Transportation. She returned to public service in 2012, after 15 years as a consultant, because she missed the diversity, fast pace, and challenges of local government.