Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
Directors Zone

by  Douglas R. Failing
Issue Date: 03/2008

Spring is thoroughly upon us and we’ve had the beginnings of some really nice weather mixed in with somewhat turbulent weather.  Spring is always a bit turbulent when there are a number of opportunities for us as an agency to move projects forward. 

As you will see from the articles in this edition, a number of things are happening related to changes in the field and in the organization --all of which are for the better.  This month we are focusing on respecting our diversity and making sure that we carry it into the future.

Now is a particularly good time for this because this month we will hold a ceremony to honor one of the female leaders in engineering-- someone who worked here at Caltrans-- and that is Marilyn Jorgensen Reece.  On March 14 there will be a ceremony at the Westdale Maintenance station in West Los Angeles, to dedicate the I-10/I-405 Interchange as the Marilyn Jorgensen Reece Memorial Interchange.  This interchange is being renamed due to legislation carried by former State Senator (currently Secretary of State) Debra Bowen.  

Jorgensen Reece was a pioneer, an award-winning Caltrans engineer and the first licensed female professional engineer in the State of California. She was one of those people at the forefront of opening up this department to be a much more diverse organization—much more representative of this society overall and more in touch with those that we work with and to those that we serve.

It was Marilyn who paved the way for other women in the engineering field. Reece joined Caltrans (then, Division of Highways) in 1948, then became the Associate Design Engineer for the I-10/I-405 Interchange in the early 1960’s. By the mid-1960’s she was assigned as a Resident Engineer for Construction on the I-605 Freeway, then to Senior Transportation Engineer on the $40-million I-210 extension in Sunland in the mid-1970’s, the most expensive construction project ever in the State at that time.

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of working for Marilyn in the early 1980’s when she was a senior engineer in Construction during one of her last big jobs before she retired: the widening of I-5 to four lanes in each direction from the I-605 interchange to Washington Boulevard.  I recall that was also one of the very first projects in District 7 where the majority of the work was done during the night, because I was there.  We work nights all the time now, but then, in the 80’s, working construction at night on the freeway was not the norm simply because it wasn’t necessary.  Back then, there were always windows of opportunity to get the work done during the day in off-peak hours. But by that time, the peak was closing up on us–traffic was equally dense in both directions-and it was getting difficult to get the work done during daylight.

Marilyn and some of her key people on staff including Marvin Lim and Don Samarge were important mentors to help me, as a young engineer, see things differently and to figure out my role in this organization and how could I help to make things better. 

In addition to recognizing Marilyn, we have another article featuring a number of the fine students that many of our employees have taken the time to mentor. Recently, I had a chance to look at the age profile across this district and I noticed that a lot of us have not gotten younger. In fact, a very large proportion of the department could retire today.  A significant majority of the department are either eligible to retire today or will be in four or five years.  A significant proportion!  We have very few employees at those entry-level age groups; those who will come behind us and complete the work that we’ve started once our plans for retirement are made. 

This issue includes Part I of a two-part series on those who came to District 7 before us---the long-term employees who have served this department well and for whom we are fortunate to still have in our offices as retired annuitants.  You’ll hear some of their stories about walking the routes, one step at a time, to begin surveying the I-5 at the Grapevine.  You’ll read about the thrill and marvel as they saw the age of computers enter the workplace, simplifying calculations previously done with paper and pencil.  And still, that generation worried about those who would follow in their footsteps and continue their work. They knew then, what we know now -- that education and mentoring are key in preparing to pass the torch. 

Caltrans is very conscience to ensure that our work is continued.  We accomplish that by mentoring high school students through the California Engineer and Land Surveyors of California (CELSOC), CalMentor and other outreach that all of us do when visiting schools to encourage young people to get involved in math and sciences, engineering or planning, biology, environmental study or computers.  And to let them know that real estate, law, architecture and administration, or other skills in equipment operation, landscape design, and art history are good, well-paying jobs that we proudly perform. 

We need to make sure that the young people who follow us, are going to be prepared to take over those jobs when we retire.  It will be nice for us to know that the roadway systems are still going to be well taken care of – when we head off on our leisurely road trips--- and there are people in place with the passion and skills to do the job.