Professional organizations can play a pivotal role in shaping an individual’s personal development and career path, and they also benefit employers and entire industries. These associations serve as hubs of knowledge, networking, and collaboration, providing a platform for professionals to connect, learn, and make a meaningful impact.
At Kittelson, our team members are active participants and leaders in more than 50 professional organizations across the country and internationally—in both the transportation engineering and planning industry and in other fields such as graphics and marketing. Some are members of multiple organizations, many have served or are currently serving in leadership positions, and there are even a few who have held memberships for multiple decades.
In this article, we will explore the impact that participation in professional organizations has on Kittelson, our team members, the transportation profession, and our communities. We’ll dive into the experiences of Kittelson team members who have found immense value in their involvement, and pass along their advice for plugging into organizations that will boost your personal and professional growth while providing opportunities for you to give to others.
Unlocking Professional Growth
Membership in professional organizations significantly expands our professional networks, elevates individuals’ professional development, and broadens overall perspectives. Through their memberships, Kittelson team members have opportunities to connect with peers, employers, clients, and teaming partners. These connections have led to exciting work opportunities, collaborations, and projects that have propelled their careers forward.
Many organizations, such as the Transportation Research Board (TRB), Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), and Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS), offer numerous opportunities for leadership roles, skill development, mentorships, certifications, and access to educational resources.
Attending workshops, conferences, webinars, and training sessions allows members to stay updated on industry trends and advancements, ensuring they remain at the forefront of the industry.
“Much of the value these organizations provide is related to networking. They hold events to connect professionals in a market area, organize information sessions to share ideas and showcase work, and host discussions with leaders in the transportation space, and, in some cases, with policy makers who prioritize transportation.” – Bailey Lozner
ITE is a popular organization among our team members. With a network of more than 17,000 members in 78 countries, ITE works to improve mobility and safety for all transportation system users and helps build smart and livable communities. Kittelson is involved with ITE across many cities and states, from Washington DC to South Arizona and overseas. Many of our team members also have previously or currently hold leadership positions; Jack Freeman is a former international president, Molly McCormick currently serves as Oregon Section president, and Gary Thomas will serve as Texas District president starting in 2024—to name only a few.
“ITE is the leading voice for transportation professionals. The organization creates lots of technical content in transportation engineering, planning, and related fields. It's also an outstanding opportunity to network with other professionals and discuss topics of common interest.” – Jeff Riegner
Many of our team members have found that leadership roles in professional organizations have helped them become recognized as experts in the industry. They have contributed to publications, presented at conferences, and gained national recognition, further enhancing their professional stature.
Chris Brehmer shared, “ITE has offered me opportunities as a volunteer officer/leader that directly led me to learning more about Kittelson when I was in graduate school. I’ve had the opportunity to co-author multiple technical articles printed in ITE Journal over the years that shared project data (trip generation for two new land use types as well as an NCHRP project that introduced the flashing yellow arrow left-turn signal); I’ve attended and presented at conferences, met new colleagues, and my involvement has allowed me to give back to the profession and share expertise related to parking and trip generation.”
Elevating the Profession and Giving Back
In addition to networking and professional growth opportunities, professional organizations fulfill their missions by engaging in activities that elevate the profession, give back to the community, and encourage the next generation.
Information Sharing, Research, and Advocacy:
A pillar of many organizations, such as American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA), Association of Pedestrian & Bicycle Professionals (APBP), and American Planning Association (APA), is sharing best practices, research, and information related to the industry. They facilitate discussions on important topics and provide resources for members such as webinars and workshops, training programs, and educational guides.
Organizations like TRB facilitate collaborative research efforts and generate research needs statements, providing platforms for industry professionals to work together on critical transportation issues. TRB participation leads our team members to potential research projects, national publications, and peer-reviewed articles that we share with our clients.
“I have enjoyed participating in TRB standing committees as both an official member and as a friend. This has gotten me connected to peers and industry leaders. It's also been fulfilling to generate research needs statements and see my ideas picked up for funding through the National Cooperative Highway Research Program.” – Zachary Bugg
These organizations also provide advocacy at the legislative level, addressing planning and transportation issues with policymakers to influence policies and funding related to infrastructure and planning.
APA and the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) are also popular among our team members. They support the planning profession through certification and continuing education opportunities, conferences and workshops that cover a variety of planning-related topics, and advocacy for planning issues at the legislative level. APA posts job opportunities and RFPs and provides guides and resources that support the day-to-day work of planners in all sectors. Dhawal Kataria added, “I am a recipient of an APA scholarship and am still an active member today. APA has a lot of initiatives including advocating for right policies, helping small communities with pro bono planning, and assisting students.”
Diversity and Inclusion:
Organizations such as Mpact (formerly known as Rail~Volution) aim to create a more diverse and inclusive environment within the industry and beyond into the communities their memberships serve.
Corrie Parrish shared that Mpact “started an LGBTQIA sub-committee to develop programming and a give-back event supporting a local LGBTQIA nonprofit, to address systemic issues around transit planning and LGBTQIA rights, as well as highlight local and regional LGBTQIA professionals working in that state. The sub-committee also provides an opportunity for other transportation professionals to learn about LGBTQIA rights as they relate to multimodal transportation access.”
Support for Students and Communities:
Young Professionals in Transportation (YPT), Society of Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), and WTS, among many other organizations, actively engage with students and provide support through scholarships, competitions, STEM initiatives, and involvement in student chapters to foster the next generation of professionals.
“WTS benefits the industry by giving women and minorities the space to speak up, grow their network and improve their knowledge of transportation in their community. And with the scholarships that are also given out yearly, this organization strives to improve more women and other minorities opportunities and interest in the transportation field.” – Chelsea Farnsworth
Jon Crisafi shared, “our ITE section offers STEM programming for regional schools at the elementary and middle school level and offers scholarships for university-level students. We actively engage with university students to get them engaged with the industry and help explore all there is to offer post-graduation.”
Another large part of these organizations’ missions is to engage in community outreach initiatives such as cleanups, food drives, and fundraising events that support nonprofit organizations and local communities.
Advice From Us to You
If you’re considering joining a professional organization, check out the following advice from our team members who have found value in the experience.
“Be involved with several early in your career, but narrow to one or two as you find some which align with your interests. Volunteer to help as much as you can to showcase what it’s like to work with you. Professional organizations are a great opportunity to meet prospective clients, teaming partners, or future coworkers. The connections you make will last your entire career.” – Andrew Thompson
“Don’t just go for the chicken sandwich at the luncheon. Jump in and make a difference by volunteering and working your way on to committees and eventually into leadership positions.” – Marc Butorac
“Professional organizations are essential to creating long-lasting relationships during your career. Find an organization you can be excited about and where participating in their activities is rewarding. Through these organization you will learn and grow professionally, but also develop friendships through your shared experiences.” – Patty Post
“Start by clarifying your goals for joining a professional organization. Are you seeking networking opportunities, professional development, industry knowledge, or advocacy involvement? Knowing your objectives will help you choose the right organization and make the most of your membership.” – Fatemeh Baratian
“Consider what it is you’d like to get out of and give to the relationship. Involvement is far more beneficial in the long run if you have a clear set of goals, and you apply yourself accordingly. Also acknowledge how much of your own time you’d like to invest—whether you’re building your network or helping to run one of these non-profit chapters, these things take time and energy on top of all your current commitments. If you decide to allocate the time and make the commitment, involvement in professional organizations can have a lasting positive impact on your career.” – Bailey Lozner
“Do it. You may not know what to do initially, but that’s ok. Like traveling, it broadens your perspective and extends your professional network and helps you see the big picture.” – JP Weesner
“Do it! There is great value in having a network of professionals in your industry and a way to stay up to date on industry hot topics.” – Mychal Loomis
Professional organizations play an indispensable role in the career development and industry advancement of countless professionals. They offer a multitude of benefits, from networking and professional development to community engagement and advocacy. To those considering involvement, we recommend exploring various organizations, determining which group aligns with how you want to grow and contribute, and actively contributing to maximize the benefits. Your involvement in a professional organization can be a transformative experience, opening doors to growth, collaboration, industry recognition, and meaningful service.