News | WTS--Los Angeles Inspiring the Next Generation of Female Leaders with Expert Guest from LA Metro

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by By:?Danielle Dirksen, BS Urban Studies and Planning, USC

On Tuesday, December 4th, five other USC students and I had the pleasure of attending a WTS-LA hosted luncheon featuring guest speaker Richard F. Clarke courtesy of generous sponsors. (Special thanks to photographer John Livzey for sponsoring me.) Clarke serves as Chief Program Management Officer (CPMO) for LA County’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, better known as Metro. Though Clarke’s background is in civil engineering, his presentation further opened our eyes to a possible career in project or program management.

From what I gather, program management is possible with either a background in planning or civil engineering, but Clarke’s technical knowledge seemed to give him an edge in his position as CPMO. For example, many of Metro’s current projects involve tunneling so an understanding of civil engineering is required. Just the same, though, a planner might have an advantage in their knowledge with land use or dealing with certain constituents.

One of the many things I love about my major in Urban Studies and Planning is its career path flexibility. I am currently most interested in transportation and there are so many options I can choose to pursue: transportation consulting, transit planning, project managing, urban planning, etc. The list is quite extensive, and the possibility excites me every time I think about my future.

Clarke discussed several of the projects Metro has going on right now, many of which are on track for the 28 by 28 initiative, a goal to have 28 projects established and in operation by the 2028 Olympics here in Los Angeles.

One of the highly-anticipated projects that Clarke discussed is the Regional Connector, a roughly 2-mile subterranean tunnel through DTLA that will connect the Gold line to the Blue and Expo lines. This project will eliminate the need to transfer to the Red and Purple lines to get to Union Station. The Regional Connector aims to make public transit more easily accessible and convenient, and therefore drive down traffic in the city.

Clarke’s role in these many projects as CPMO includes overseeing the budget and technical analytics, making sure that the projects are up to speed and are being executed appropriately. He also touched on strategic initiatives and covered how he is expected to listen to constituents’ demands, albeit not always directly. Clarke’s role is complicated and multi-faceted but rewarding, especially knowing that he is partially responsible for increasing LA’s use of public transit.



In addition to the lunch and speaker portion of the event, I and the other sponsored students also enjoyed the networking opportunities. I sat at a table full of Metro employees, a few of whom were USC alumni, and connected with a few of them over my love for the Expo line. And the Gold line. And the Red and Purple lines. Basically, we connected over my love for Metro as a whole.

I met a few women from architecture and consulting firms. During my conversations with some of these ladies, I discussed my final architecture workshop paper, in which I claimed that the US Bank Tower deserves to be renamed the tallest building in LA over the Wilshire Grand Center. I might add that the women ? and anyone else I could get to listen ? agreed with me that the Center’s spire shouldn’t count as height.

My most exciting connection, perhaps, occurred when I asked Clarke a question about how any earthquakes SoCal might experience in the coming years, particularly the “big one,” will affect the progress of Metro’s multiple projects. A professional came up to me afterwards and asked if I was the student who asked the question, and he proceeded to hand me his business card after confirming that I was searching for internships. This goes to show that doors may open no matter where you go ? I simply asked a question and now my chances of finding an internship have increased substantially. (I met with the gentleman, an Executive VP of a consulting private-public partnership firm, and he is willing to work with me. AND he introduced me to 2 Metro managers after our meeting.)

Going forward, I will more proactively approach each professional event that I attend with the mindset that this event may change my future for the better. I won’t raise my expectations so high that they result in disappointing outcomes, but I will push myself out of my comfort zone and ask questions and meet new people. It sounds incredibly cliché, but you really never know where something will lead you. I’m grateful that I decided to RSVP for the luncheon, to METRANS who coordinated our attendance, to WTS and the sponsors who made our attendance possible, and will continue to attend transportation- and planning-related events.


About the Author:

Danielle Dirksen is majoring in Urban Studies and Planning at the USC Price School of Public Policy. She is double-minoring in Environmental Studies and Occupational Science, and hopes to increase the public's interest in utilizing public transit through community outreach. Danielle is also interested in planning more sustainable transportation methods, and currently sees herself as a transportation planner or a transit project manager in the future. 

Photo Credit: John Livzey