Q&A: Talking with Intern Turned Engineer Blane Solomon about How She’s Helping Shape the City She Grew Up In
Assistant Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax Manager Blane Solomon shares what made her pursue a career in STEAM, how it feels working with an award-winning public works team and why she enjoys being a part of the Jacobs family.
As the 10th largest city in Georgia, Johns Creek is home to nearly 84,000 residents. To keep up with the ever-increasing population, the City relies on Jacobs, their partner since 2006, to deliver quality operations and support services for public works, parks, transportation and more to accommodate the rapid growth. The team’s innovative work and commitment to the citizens has been recognized by the industry, as well as the client. The City recently approved a two-year extension with Jacobs and added operations and maintenance of the storm water utility to the scope of work.
The strong partnership would not be possible without the 22 skilled staff who work at the project. To build a strong team, Jacobs established an internship program at the project in 2014 to develop young talent and lay a foundation for recruiting talented staff.
The intern program has yielded a number of hires, including Assistant Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax Manager Blane Solomon.
Marking National Public Works Week, in this feature, we caught up with Blane to talk about her previous internship experience with Jacobs, her current role and how it feels to maintain and support the city where she grew up.
To start, what inspired you to pursue a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM)?
The questions “How?” and “Why?” have always been a regular part of my vocabulary, and this innate curiosity led me to pursue a STEAM career. My STEAM courses in school focused heavily on problem solving and often helped answer many of my questions, specifically about the built environment around me. Not only did I want to continue learning about the built environment, but I wanted to create it. Here I am years later working as a transportation engineer! I’m thankful to have grown up in an environment where I was never made to believe that certain people can’t pursue or succeed in STEAM careers. Learning that this stigma exists has only reinforced my decision to pursue a career in STEAM. I hope that as I move through my career, I can be an example for other women, minorities and children of immigrants.
Between your junior and senior year you interned with the Johns Creek Public Works Department. What kinds of things did you get involved in during your internship?
I was able to participate in a flexible rotational program within the Johns Creek Public Works Department. I created concepts and designs for local projects, visited project sites with our field services team, negotiated land acquisitions alongside our right-of-way team, and kept an eye on our traffic cameras/signals in our Traffic Monitoring Center. Most notably, however, I was able to complete a concept for a large widening project in the city and helped execute a public meeting for a roundabout project for the community! Getting involved in these different aspects of public works allowed me to see all the moving parts it took to keep up with and improve a city’s infrastructure.
How did your internship help shape your career?
My internship ended in 2017 and I continue to work in a more developed version of my initial role, so I would say it has been extremely influential in shaping my early career. In the past, I held other internship and research positions, but my work with Johns Creek City Services was the only position where I saw myself truly engaged in the day-to-day tasks and overarching goal. I loved being able to watch a project transform from plans on paper into a tangible solution and all of the steps in between. Beyond strengthening my technical and communication skills, my internship showed me how crucial a well-balanced team is for fostering growth, and that I wanted to continue to be part of such a team!
You joined Jacobs in 2018 – the year that the Johns Creek Public Works Department was named ‘Agency of the Year’ by the Georgia Section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers. What was it like to start your career with such a high-performing team?
Starting my career with the Jacobs’ Johns Creek team has been such a blessing. Early on I was able to recognize that my colleagues were amongst the best and the brightest in the industry. I could see first-hand the effort it takes to deliver exceptional work for our multi-faceted projects. It is amazing to be part of a group that is recognized within Jacobs and amongst other firms for providing exceptional city services. My experience on this team, working with and learning from such dedicated colleagues, has given me the tools to succeed in any environment.
What is a typical day like in your role?
Mornings at the office typically start off with checking emails and the status of various transportation projects. Usually I’ll be responsible for four to six projects at any given time and my priorities within each project change daily. Aside from general management, there’s rarely a “typical day” because of the unique challenges each project brings. After addressing the most pressing tasks per project, I’ll pay a field visit to various construction sites to make sure the work is going smoothly and work with the City to promote our work in the community. I also review project plans to evaluate if any revisions in design or right-of-way need to be made. Portions of my day are also dedicated to addressing resident concerns regarding project impacts on their commutes or property. My afternoons are spent reviewing invoices from contractors and secondary engineers to ensure that our budgets and schedules are on track. This is also the perfect time to check in on aspects of my projects that may have tasks with other groups in the office, such as traffic submittals, to ensure everything is on track for completion.
What’s it like to work on projects in the city you grew up in?
Extremely fulfilling. My first completed project, which I managed through to construction, was at an intersection just outside my old subdivision. Johns Creek has seen so many infrastructure improvements since my family moved there in 2000 and having a part in transforming my hometown has been incredible. Growing up in Johns Creek has also given me a unique ability to connect with the residents, who are sometimes my former neighbors! This common ground with the community helps in explaining the necessity and benefits of various projects at public meetings and over the phone. Because community engagement plays a large role in my day to day, having an extra bit of knowledge about the city is not only extremely helpful, but also allows me to learn new things about the city daily!
You recently organized a fundraiser to support the UNHCR, a United Nations Refugee Agency and raised a whopping $5,600 through Collectively, our global giving and volunteering program. What inspired you to rally your Johns Creek co-workers for this cause?
I am a first generation American whose parents emigrated from Tigray, the northern-most region of Ethiopia. Many of my family members and friends were not immigrants, but refugees from the same area. Over the last six months, tens of thousands of people in Tigray have once again been forced out of their homes after political tensions erupted into war last November. The people of Tigray have endured government sponsored blackouts, bank closures, manufactured famine and war-crimes in this on-going struggle. The UNHCR, a U.N. agency responsible for assisting displaced peoples, expressed concern regarding funding as the conflict grew into a humanitarian crisis. In early December, I learned Jacobs would match 100% of donations to this cause via Collectively. I took this opportunity to both spread awareness about the crisis and fundraise at the same time. As I educated my co-workers about the conflict, they graciously agreed to help me fundraise and take advantage of the full match per employee. I would never have expected to raise so much money for this cause, so I am extremely grateful to the Jacobs family for supporting my efforts.
What do you enjoy most about being part of the Jacobs family?
I’m most appreciative of the tight-knit community Jacobs has fostered across the firm. There is an environment of openness and respect that remains consistent across the other offices I have visited in the metro-Atlanta area and Arlington, whether I am reaching out to engineers in different positions, or when we have had visits from Jacobs leadership. I also appreciate the extensive organizational and global opportunities within Jacobs and look forward to exploring them throughout my career.
If you aren’t working, what would we be most likely to find you doing?
In my free time, you might find me at one of Atlanta’s many local parks meeting up with friends, reading or doing yoga. Ever since studying abroad, I have also made it a point to travel to and explore as many places as I can – so far, I’m at 19 countries!
People would be surprised to know that I….
…love thrill seeking activities! I always try to fit them in on vacations, especially. My demeanor is generally calm, so it always catches people off guard to find out that I am willing to go on an adventure, like cliff jumping, skydiving or zip-lining. I’d like to try volcano boarding for my next experience.
We currently have openings for interns all across the U.S. in a huge range of disciplines and are always looking for dynamic and engaged people to join our team. Bring your passion, your ingenuity and your vision. Let’s see the impact we can create, together.