Alumni Spotlight: Marcela Moreno, Transit Technologist
Name: Marcela Moreno
Graduation year: 2013
Company and location: Community Transportation Association of America, Washington DC
1. What do you do?
I am a Transit Technologist at the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA), where I primarily work for the National Center for Applied Transit Technology (N-CATT).
N-CATT is a federally funded technical assistance center that was created to help small urban (200,000 and less), rural, and tribal transit agencies adopt emerging transit technologies like new fare payment technology, computer-aided dispatch, alternative fuel vehicles, automated vehicles, etc.
When I’m not focused on transit technology, I help on consulting projects for organizations (hospitals, non-profits, or transit agencies) that want to solve their transportation issues. I also help make maps to represent spatial datasets for a variety of CTAA projects.
2. What’s the coolest part of your job?
The coolest part of my job is providing technical assistance to transit agencies. I’m kind of a pro bono consultant, so I get to travel a lot!
Depending on COVID, this year we’re traveling to five transit agencies across the country from Maryland to Iowa and even Hawaii (big maybe on that visit). I get to help transit agencies work through some of their biggest pain points and explore how technology can be used as a tool to make their operations and rider experience better.
3. Why are you passionate about this work?
I love transit. Public transportation touches on a lot of topics that I am very interested in, such as social justice, environmental sustainability, public health, and generally building better communities.
The work I do specifically focuses on smaller, less-resourced parts of the country. I think that technological innovations shouldn’t be concentrated in the biggest and wealthiest parts of the country and should be implemented in a way that shifts power to minoritized people and places that have been historically disinvested in.
4. How did you find your job/what’s the best resource for jobs or networking you’ve found?
The best resource I’ve found for jobs is actually through social media. The School of City and Regional Planning at Georgia Tech has a Facebook group that is super active with job postings. That, and LinkedIn often shares really great opportunities based on your profile. So, my advice is to update your profile and keep it up to date!
5. What’s the most surprising detour you’ve taken from your career path? What did you learn from it?
I thought that I was going to go to graduate school for public health, but I happened to have a conversation with my undergraduate research partner about grad school, and she mentioned city planning as a profession. Honestly, I had never thought about that as a possible option. I learned that the built environment is an excellent place to make changes that positively impact our communities in so many ways, including as a way to have a huge impact on a person’s health outcomes.
6. What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced since graduating, and how did you overcome it?
The greatest challenge that I faced since graduating was complacency by way of imposter syndrome. At one time, I felt like I was in a job that didn’t value the skills that I brought to the table. One time, I remember a senior member of a meeting that we were hosting had told me that I’d be an "excellent secretary" after sharing my aspirations to become a city planner. Pretty rude, TBH. Anyway, I overcame it by finding mentorship with women in my field, venting a lot, and using my anger at situations like that to show up at my best. Being vulnerable and sharing those sorts of insecurities or feelings has led to stronger and more trusting relationships with friends, colleagues, and even managers.
7. What’s your #1 tip for students and alumni interested in your field?
Your and your community’s lived experience is extremely valuable in urban planning. Non-traditional experience applies. Do you volunteer for your local community garden? Experience. Are you actively advocating and providing input on making your transit system better? Experience.
City planning needs diverse perspectives from the community in decision-making and design roles to create spaces whose natural, built, and lived environments are healthy, thriving, and accessible.
8. Can HSOC students and alum contact you if they’re interested in following in your footsteps? What are some things you can speak to and the best way for them to contact you?
Yes! I can speak about the decision (or not!) to go to graduate school, ways to fund it, and time management. Also, about anything related to urbanism. I’m a transit planner now, but I can speak on public health and environmental planning, too. Also if you’re interested in DC or moving to DC at all, I’m up to speak on that too! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.