Imagining The Future – Celebrating AAPI Month
Connecting communities has been something I have been passionate about for years. I started my career as a Traffic Engineer at Parsons 22 years ago. One of the highlights in my career was assisting with the traffic signal timing and coordination work with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) under the guidance of Doug Brazelton, one of our project managers. We analyzed traffic flows and patterns and implemented the most efficient timing plans that reduced stops, delays, and emissions. It was important for me seeing the immediate and positive impact on traffic flow when new timings took effect. As I drove along the corridor with traffic, making mental notes on left turns and crossing streets, I remember smiling with satisfaction, knowing that no one knew I was making a positive difference in their commute.
I moved on to ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems) and started working more with the Illinois Tollway. I am so fortunate to have great mentors along the way, especially the late Mr. Gordon Paesani, Chief Engineer. I gained experience as on-site manager and worked side by side with the Traffic Operations group. In the last 17 years, I contributed to the growth of the Traffic and Incident Management System (TIMS) into a large ITS program. The TIMS program has become the lead in national ITS implementation that won several regional and national awards. This is the success story of our continued partnership between the client team and the Parsons’ team. Over the years, I was also able to support and manage many projects in various states, including Indiana, Michigan, New York, and Arkansas.
Although right now, my life is focused on advanced technology, that has not always been the case. My story began halfway around the world in the south Indian state of Kerala. I recall my carefree childhood days in tropical unspoiled countryside and beaches. Kerala is known for houseboats, lush tropical forests, rice paddy fields, monsoon rains, and coconut tree-lined beaches. I grew up in a remote village farm with hills, valleys, and streams. My Grandpa’s farm was mostly a rubber tree plantation, but the farm also produced coconuts, tapioca, bananas, cashew nuts, and mangoes. The small but self-sufficient farm also had cows, goats, and chickens. The cows ignored me, the goats tolerated me, and the chickens were suspicious of me. I spent the summer months playing in the streams, looking for rare plants, and exploring the land with my trusted canine sidekick, Rosy. Today, both my daughters are fascinated with my adventures, as their childhood in the US was much different. There were no amusement parks, playgrounds, birthday parties, road trips, or malls. But looking back now, I am thankful that I was given such an opportunity to experience the two slices of life. I spent half my life in Asia and the other half in the US, and I appreciate them both equally.
For many, India as a country has been misinterpreted by the media for many years. Just as the US is so diverse, India is also very diverse in scenery, food, culture, celebrations, clothing, traditions, and religion. My experience and story are probably very different from most people from the region, which is even more reason why sharing our stories is important to highlighting diversity.
My family was very supportive of education, which allowed me to spread my wings and follow my interest in engineering as I was always fascinated with machines and technology. Though I could read and write English, I struggled with language barriers and cultural challenges when I moved to the US. But this, too, helped me become the person I am today – an immigrant and a citizen, an Asian and an American at the same time, just as two sides of a coin.
As engineers, we get to implement the imaginations of the previous generations. Years ago, we dreamt of futuristic towns and intelligent cars. The autonomous cars will be a reality in our lifetime, and we will continue to imagine and pave the way for a world beyond our current capabilities. But in our engineering community, while we push forward with innovation and technology, we need to also pause and recognize the struggles that we face because of where we come from. The struggles may be as diverse as the people themselves – including but not limited to language barriers, misunderstanding cultural nuances, fear of not being accepted, and so on.
This is why the launch of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives caught my attention. I spent some evenings reading the stories from our “Let’s Get Awkward” series, an internal campaign Parsons is running to encourage employees to share their diverse backgrounds. I love working for a company that shares such stories and celebrates diversity. When we start this conversation, it sparks our community to overcome barriers caused by a limited understanding of each other. This inspired me to be part of our DEI Employee Business Resource Group (EBRG). Though this takes more time and commitment from us, I was excited to join the group since I knew it would make a difference in others’ lives. Like my signal timing work, these tiny changes add a more significant impact on our community. I am honored to be currently serving as the secretary and treasurer of the Society of Oceanic and Asian Regions (SOAR) EBRG.
From my own personal experience, I know that the roles of mentors and allies are so important. I would not be where I am today without the support and mentoring that I received. My mentors and allies recognized my capabilities and challenged me to rise to them. They provided guidance, shared knowledge, and wisdom. One of my current goals is to pass that on by continuing to be a mentor for more engineers, software developers, and project managers.
Our team encourages others to find their strength and confidence.
We need to be the allies in amplifying their voices. The EBRGs provide the perfect opportunity for us to provide mentorship or receive mentoring from appropriate sources. The SOAR community is so large, and the needs are so diverse. I am encouraging all of you to join hands with us, especially now during Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.
Even though it seems as if the world is trying to pull us apart, we will strive for unity among diversity. We can all do our part. Let’s leave this world a better place than how we found it.