Mentorship Spotlight: Embedding Equity in Transportation

Mentee Sarah Huang is a Program Coordinator at Shared-Use Mobility Center where she supports implementation and evaluation of the Clean Mobility Options Voucher Pilot program. With a strong interest in service and leadership, Sarah was previously a CivicSpark AmeriCorps Fellow and helped administer the program prior to her current position. As a Southern California native with a background and experience in climate change and public policy, Sarah is pivoting her career to focus on the transportation field and addressing the inequities and systemic challenges built into the existing infrastructure.

Mentor Jeff Meek has over 10 years of experience in the sustainability and adaptation field. Now leading the climate resilience efforts within the Minnesota Department of Transportation and with previous experience managing the sustainability office for Indianapolis, Jeff is taking on the most polluting and entrenched sector of transportation. Jeff has a MPA and MSES from Indiana University, and was an environmental education volunteer for the Peace Corps in El Salvador from 2010 to 2012.

From the start of the mentorship program, Jeff has been a steady guide in providing support and perspective to Sarah as she navigated a change in job positions, a permanent move back to Southern California, and musings about graduate school in the near future. In their conversations, Sarah and Jeff have discussed some of the challenges and difficulties of starting a new job (especially remotely) and different approaches that Jeff has previously taken to understand a new role and build connection and community in a new work environment. Along the same line, the pair also explored strategies to grow one’s professional network through ASAP’s member-led groups and local professional organizations focused on planning and transportation.

In recent discussions, Jeff and Sarah have focused on the topic of equity and how climate adaptation and environmental justice show up (and don’t show up) in the transportation sector. Especially while working in a new pilot program with the goal of increasing clean transportation and mobility in underserved communities across California, meetings where the outcome of a decision can have far reaching and unintended impacts on staff, community members, program applicants and awardees can be kind of stressful. And in a growing, collaborative team full of a wide range of experiences and priorities, conflict and differences in opinion are bound to arise. Through some of the wisdom and lessons learned that Jeff shared, Sarah has gained a better understanding and perspective of knowing how to balance pushing for change and respecting the established process, the need for shared goals and clear expectations, and the importance of relationship building and connecting things back to the community being served.

Getting to work through some of the challenges encountered in the professional world is a helpful reminder of the importance of service and empathy. Climate adaptation, transportation, and policy work will always be messy because unlike mathematical models and scientific research, it involves humans who are a little unpredictable and uncontrollable but that’s also what makes it interesting and exciting. And it is humbling to be reminded that the work should always be in service of others and the communities most impacted by the work.

Thanks to both for sharing what they’ve learned!