Transport Yourself to New Horizons
James Wong grew up on Long Island, a short trip from New York City via the Long Island Railroad. As a kid, he was fascinated by the trains and subways of New York?the pulse of the city that shuffles nearly three million New Yorkers around the Big Apple every day. Today, about to complete his dual master’s degree at Georgia Tech in engineering and city and regional planning with a focus on transportation, Wong is learning how to plan and design for mass transit systems in large cities.
In high school, Wong was unsure about what he wanted to do for a career. Though he had a lot of interests?culinary arts?business?architecture?engineering?he couldn’t quite narrow it down.
“I was all over the place like I think a lot of [students] are,” Wong said. “It really wasn’t until I started filling out [college] applications that I thought really seriously, ‘what is the next step going to be? What are you going to start focusing on?’”
Wong ended up at the University of Pennsylvania as an engineering major with few specific plans for after graduation. During one of his first semester classes, a professor gave a presentation on urban transportation, and something clicked.
“Getting on the Long Island Railroad when I grew up, getting on the subway ? I didn’t realize it was possible to make a career out of that ? so there was certainly a bit of childhood excitement when I realized, ‘you can make a career out of this.' ... I was really excited right there, and I jumped in head first to start taking a lot of classes [the professor] offered,” Wong said.
After earning his bachelor’s degree, Wong decided to enter the workforce as an engineering consultant before pursuing graduate school. He used this time to gain professional experience in the transportation field and apply for graduate schools. Some of his work experiences during this period included sidewalk design, traffic operations, and university transportation planning. He says that joining the workforce helped him to hone in even further on the career path he wanted to take, and enabled him to learn new skills that would help him further his education. It was then that, seeing Wong’s potential, the engineering firm he worked for offered him a paid position in South Africa for one year as part of a staff exchange program. Wong accepted the offer, and spent an exciting year working and exploring another country. Upon his return, he enrolled in graduate school with a specific plan of action.
As Wong’s experience shows, a career path can open the door to amazing experiences. He urged students to begin exploring a variety of interests in middle school and high school, and to take part in extracurricular activities to help prepare for honing in on their careers in college. Then, he says, students should begin to research the many funding opportunities that are available to them to help pay for college. The transportation industry is especially dedicated to encouraging young people to pursue career opportunities in transportation. The industry and the Federal Government provide countless college scholarships to students pursuing transportation-based degrees.
“I’m thrilled to be in transportation,” Wong said. “There has been more and more opportunity for young people. ? [Organizations] are putting a lot more energy into trying to get younger people involved and in leadership positions. There are countless scholarships you can do to get into the industry. ? It just goes to show that I’m in a place where they’re supporting younger folks getting involved. The industry seems really committed to the future.”