Welcome to Engineers Week 2020! We’re excited the spend the week highlighting some of our top-notch engineers, their most memorable projects, and what they’re excited about for the future of active transportation. These passionate, talented engineers – at all stages in their careers – are what makes Toole Design so successful. Inspired to join them? Check out our job board – we have several positions open now, all across the country.
Q&A with Sharon Daleo, P.E. | Director of Engineering, Portland
Tell us about your job here at Toole Design. What kind of projects do you work on, and what is your role?
I am the Engineering Director in Portland, so I manage the engineering staff there. I am also a Project Manager and work on a range of projects from planning through final design. A few of the projects I am currently working on include a Master Plan, a final design for a Protected Bike Lane, the concept and final design for enhanced bus treatment projects, and multimodal design option analysis for a significant Oregon DOT corridor.
Why did you become an engineer?
That is a hard one! I am not one of those people who knew what they wanted to do when it was time to start college, or even after a few years of college! I changed majors a few times and just kept taking classes I enjoyed throughout the process. At some point I realized I couldn’t be a student forever and focused on what to do with the abundance of math and science course I had taken. Engineering it was!
What made you want to work at Toole Design?
Values-based engineering has always been important to me and I think no firm embodies that more than Toole Design. The work we do provides us the opportunity to make things better for our communities. The types of projects we work on aim to improve transportation and access to transportation in ways that also are better for the environment and public health.
Tell us about a project you’ve worked on here that you’ve found particularly exciting, interesting, or innovative.
It is difficult to just pick one, but I’ll say the Outer Powell Project. I don’t know if I would consider it exciting, but it has been quite challenging. The ultimate client is Oregon DOT (ODOT). The facility is currently owned and operated by ODOT but will be jurisdictionally transferred to the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) immediately upon construction completion. The challenging bit comes with the expectation that the project is designed to ODOT requirements but acceptable to PBOT. As one might expect, these agencies have very different opinions on the design treatments. PBOT is very safety and multimodally focused and ODOT is on new ground with trying to incorporate multimodal thinking into their historically freight/highway focus. This corridor is considered a “freight corridor,” and our role has heavily involved developing solutions that are safe for pedestrians and bicyclists without violating freight needs and requirements, since the corridor serves as a parallel route to I-84.
What is the most exciting trend you see with active transit right now?
There is a focus on access to transit and improving transit (bus) performance and reliability that is particularly exciting to me. I think we all recognize the most disadvantaged populations are the most likely to rely on transit to get to work and often have the longest commutes. The opportunity to work on projects that not only help people reach their destinations in a reasonable and consistent timeframe but also gets them there safer by providing connected pedestrian and bike facilities is very exciting.
How have the New E’s factored into your work at Toole Design?
I have historically chosen to work on projects that are not auto-focused, but the New Es, as well as Toole Design’s DEI focus, have sharpened my focus on project outcomes and what the project really means to the community. It has made me rethink how community outreach is conducted and consider ways to ensure we are getting the input we need.
I think the focus on values (like the New Es) is real here and not just “checking the box,” which makes Toole Design different from other firms. This is evidenced by the encouragement and support of meaningful conversations and activities following training. The company leadership team cares about how our work affects communities, which is reflected in the people we hire and the work we choose to do.
Tell us about your experience mentoring newer employees.
I think it is important for newer staff to learn by doing (and therefore sometimes learn from mistakes) so I try to balance providing the right amount of guidance and direction with the right amount of free rein. Sometimes, I encounter newer, less experienced staff who have set their sights on project management before developing a solid technical foundation. I am sensitive to this because I feel that I was pushed into project management too early in my career and was a horrible project manager at first! Then, I stepped away from it for about five years and honed my technical skills. I came back as a better and more confident project manager who actually knew and understood what I was talking about. I try to share that with others in hopes they better understand the importance of foundational understanding of planning and engineering.