Transportation & Construction Girl Day returns in person

Transportation & Construction Girl event

Drones. Heavy equipment. Computer traffic programs. A hulking tow truck for buses. Masonry demonstrations. Paint, flight and excavator simulators. For the more than 300 young women attending Transportation & Construction Girl Day on Tuesday, the exhibits scattered across the Jefferson County Fairgrounds presented a carnival of discoveries – and, throughout, the ability to talk with individuals in the transportation and construction industries and learn about career opportunities.

Transportation & Construction Girl, an initiative of the Hoya Foundation, was founded five years ago in recognition of the need for workers in these fields, which provide competitive wages and excellent possibilities for advancement. The project intends to draw attention to women in the transportation and construction industries and prompt others to join. Attendance at this week’s event was free for girls, who needed to be accompanied by a guardian, parent or teacher.

Regarding transportation specifically, the American Public Transportation Association reports that the majority of transit riders in the United States are women. Transportation is a huge criterion in job creation – with companies understanding the importance of being located near public transit – and regions with the best mobility networks continue to grow.

The Transportation & Construction Girl initiative targets girls between 13 and 20 years old – an age range when they are determining what is possible in their lives, role models are crucial and single conversations can influence the direction of a young woman’s life.

RTD has been a proud supporter of Transportation & Construction Girl events since their inception. In past years, young women have toured RTD facilities and listened to agency staff members speak about their careers in public transportation. This year, as in past in-person years, RTD was on hand to show girls heavy equipment – and speak to the wealth of career opportunities available at the agency. Civil Rights outreach specialist Vivian Morales, Human Resources business partner Rochelle Montez, Community Engagement Manager Christina Zazueta and technical training instructor and supervisor Tim Wallace fielded questions about their own work, also noting jobs available in information technology, safety, legal and RTD in general.

“Their eyes just open so wide – they see the possibilities,” Morales said of the young women with whom she spoke.

Looking toward the event this week, project director Keller Hayes expected at least 530 people in attendance at Tuesday’s event – the first in person since before the pandemic, when about 600 young women, teachers, parents and companies took part in 2019. In the absence of a sit-down luncheon this year – an approach taken in past years – Hayes focused on organizing a mix of inside and outside exhibits, being mindful of safety protocols. The approach led exhibitors to have more exposure to the girls in attendance, she said.

The event was mainly virtual in 2020, with more than five dozen videos for girls to review, many featuring worksite tours, and contests that they could participate in online. Two in-person drone training classes were held, both outside. “We did whatever we could,” Hayes said.

Reflecting on those who have completed the program over the past five years, Hayes said, “I’m really able to look at where the girls have come from and where they’re going.” Their experiences in the program have led some girls, she said, to look toward careers in construction management and enroll at the Colorado School of Mines.

“You have to see it to believe it, and then to achieve it,” RTD General Manager and CEO Debra A. Johnson said this week. By showing girls what is possible, she noted, “they know they, too, can aspire to hold one of those positions in the future. It’s all about seeing it to make it a reality, and programs such as this provide that opportunity.”

Johnson didn’t originally consider a career in transportation, she said – she planned to be an attorney. A new avenue opened up when she went to graduate school and pursued government relations. Johnson called her career path “more analogous to a jungle gym: I step to the left, I step to the right, I step to the back before I can go forward.”

Johnson said she wants young women to believe in themselves, understand their abilities and know that they are in competition only with themselves. “All of us have a story, and that’s why it’s so important that as we engage with others, we can lean in and be empathetic to what their story is,” she said. “What makes us our own unique selves is how our story has come together. There could be commonalities, but our story is uniquely our own.”

Zamy Silva, senior manager of RTD’s Civil Rights division, spoke to the goosebumps she felt Tuesday while watching so many young women engage in activities and ask questions. The excitement and curiosity were palpable, she said.

“Something like this is literally exposing young women to new career opportunities and a path they had not even thought about,” Silva said. “You are seeing young women excited about the multitude of possibilities that when they woke up this morning, they didn’t even think about, and knowing that’s possible for them. You can see it.”