Emily Tapia-Lopez, Associate Vice President, HNTB, says transportation has always been a part of her life—from her early upbringing to her college days, which made a career in transportation the perfect opportunity for her to impact her local community. A long-time COMTO member, she shares more about her journey in transportation and ways in which we can attract more Latinos to the industry.
What is your name, title and company? Emily Tapia-Lopez, Associate Vice President, HNTB
What exactly do you do in that role? I am currently on the Program Management Team at the Illinois Tollway, helping to deliver the 15-year, $14 billion Move Illinois capital program.
Can you describe the journey to your current position? Growing up on the southwest side of Chicago, I was always surrounded by a robust transportation network—transit, freight rail, expressways and even an international airport. While I studied political science and urban planning, my path always seemed to have a transportation focus. I experienced the development of transportation policy at both the state and federal levels. Locally, I worked with the Chicago Transit Authority and a civic nonprofit organization focused on transportation policy. I developed my communications skills and built my understanding of the human impact in the private sector and am now managing communications for my team at the Illinois Tollway.
What has been the most valuable tool(s) for you during your career journey? Throughout my career, I have found some amazing mentors that have guided me, served as a strong support system and have helped me better understand this dynamic industry. Transportation attracts amazing talent, and I am honored to work with such an incredible team every single day. With almost 20 years of experience, I’ve had the unique opportunity to see the results of some of my projects and the impacts being made in communities on a daily basis. It is truly rewarding.
What are some obstacles you’ve faced as a Latina in transportation and how have you overcome them? As a female minority in a predominantly male-dominated field, I often feel I need to prove myself as a professional who understands the impact and profound opportunity within the transportation industry. I think it’s important to understand the industry, research and learn about the processes and policies that drive transportation decision-making and build trust among peers. This helps create a foundation of trust and build credibility within the industry.
What are your thoughts on the progress Latinos have made in transportation? Across the country, Latinos are gaining greater representation in executive, leadership and decision-making positions. These appointments have been critical in ensuring diverse voices are helping to chart the course for the future of our transportation network. While much work remains, these important advancements place greater responsibility on our leaders to help create an inclusive culture throughout public and private organizations.
What are some ways we can better reach the Latino community regarding careers in transportation? I truly believe that engagement begins early—even at the elementary school level. Students need exposure to careers in transportation and should see the many paths and disciplines available within the industry. Internships and mentorship provide needed support and guidance as skills are refined and well into higher education. Representation matters, now more than ever. If the public sector and the private sector work collaboratively to actively engage, support, hire, promote and mentor Latinos within the workforce, that investment will lead to greater diversity for generations to come.
Please describe how you’ve been active in COMTO and in your community at large. I’ve been a long-time member of COMTO and a strong supporter of the organization. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, COMTO has provided a unique platform to continue to build community and provide valuable support to its members and the broader community on important policies, efforts and initiatives.
How have you benefitted from being a COMTO member? COMTO provides a valuable network of highly qualified professionals working together to build and pave the way for the next generation of diverse leaders in the transportation industry. From scholarships to professional development for members, COMTO has provided meaningful opportunities for me to advance my career and give back to the industry.
What words of advice do you have for up-and-coming transportation leaders? As you advance in your career, lead with integrity, never stop learning and growing, and find opportunities to mentor others along the way.