Traffic Engineer | Enovate Engineering
Can you tell us a little about where each of you work and what you do?
Sydney “Syd” Chan has over 7 years of experience in the transportation industry, in traffic engineering and in rail simulation. He also has over five additional years in software development, working on data analysis and business intelligence applications. Syd is a graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, with dual bachelor’s degrees in architecture and in history, and a master’s degree in civil engineering, plus additional urban planning courses at Rutgers Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. Syd is currently the YPT MidAtlantic Region Deputy Director of Programs, as well as lead chair of the ITE Met Section Mentorship Committee, having organized the ITE Met Section Group Mentoring Program for 2020 through 2023. Additionally, he has been a member of the organizing committee for TransportationCamp NYC for several years, and has been highly involved with local APA, ASCE, and WTS chapters. Syd recently joined Enovate Engineering, a small New Jersey-based WBE firm, consulting for clients including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Have you ever been in a mentoring relationship before? If so, what was your role?
Yes, I have been in mentoring relationships and mentoring programs previously. I had participated in the ASCE Met Section group mentoring program in 2017 and in 2021, and also the WTS-NJ Mentoring Program and PWC Mentoring Program in 2021. Additionally, I’ve organized a group mentoring program for ITE Met Section since 2020. I have mostly been in mentee roles due to my preference, but I do look forward in growing and becoming a mentor in the future.
What prompted you to get involved with a mentorship program?
I always felt the need for guidance and leadership within my life, and during a career-break period several years ago, I realized that I would also benefit from a guiding hand with my career as well. However, I also found traditional mentoring programs to be an intimidating reach, with internal expectations that any mentor I was paired with would want to mold me exactly to their personality and career path. As well, after my career change, I found myself getting involved with as many professional organizations as I possibly could, including the local chapter of ITE (ITE Met Section) in their Mentorship Committee, helping with organizing their emerging professionals events. I additionally found myself applying for and participating in an ASCE group mentoring program during this period of my career. Then I was given the suggestion and opportunity to organize a group mentoring program for ITE Met Section, which I undertook, while also searching out additional opportunities for mentorship and menteeship. Ultimately, I have drawn on my own struggles and achievements to inform my mentor/mentee/organizer experience, and I have found that not being afraid to get personal leads to a more fulfilling and fruitful mentoring experience.
For those that did a mentoring pairing: With YPT, we’ve done the pairing and given suggestions on best practices, but left it to participants to structure their mentorship. Can you walk us through how your partner did mentoring? (Who takes the lead; how often do you meet; do you structure your meetings or set goals – give us an inside look into what mentoring looks like for the two of you)
With my YPT mentor, Ron Boenau, I have taken the lead in the mentoring relationship, now that I have more knowledge and understanding of my mentee needs and goals. I meet with Ron about once or twice a month for an hour per meeting, scheduled by calendar invite from my calendar, due to my busier schedule. Over the past several months, I have reached out to Ron for advice on my most recent work transition to my new employer, as well as for ideas and suggestions to explore mentoring and leadership as a framework for organizing the group mentoring program. Ron has also been able to extend opportunities to me that I would not have been able to take advantage of otherwise, such as a speaking opportunity earlier this year at the North Carolina Section of ITE, speaking on programs to improve professional development and mentoring.
Why do you think it’s important to participate in mentoring, especially in this field?
It is important to participate in mentoring in the transportation field as a means of networking as well as a means to give and receive career advice and opportunities. Any professional one meets through networking can be a “stealth mentor” to one’s career, even if it is only one nugget of career advice given during a fleeting moment in an elevator or at a conference. On the flip side of that coin, however, any professional you run into time and time again can automatically become an informal mentor, or even a formal mentor if you were to approach them with a formal ask. Ultimately, investing your time into networking and mentoring relationships help builds a foundation for your career, between the folks who are willing to pull you up with them, and the folks whom you are able to pull up alongside you.
What topics did you find most beneficial to discuss with mentor(s), and why?
There are many topics that are beneficial to discuss within a mentoring relationship, including personal experiences and work experiences with mentors with similar or with vastly different intersectionalities from the mentee. It is always great to listen and hear other people’s experiences In conversation, whether they are sympathizing with your experience or empathizing with your experience and comparing it to their own experience. This is especially true in times of transition and stress that the mentee is undergoing, such as career transitions, new jobs, and even changes to families and home life.
What is something that you’ve learned from your experience in our mentoring program?
One thing that I have learned from my experience in the YPT mentoring program is a renewed appreciation for one-on-one mentoring, now that I am not as apprehensive or intimidated by the idea and expectation that mentors must perfectly match up with mentees. It is perfectly acceptable, and really ultimately inevitable, that a mentor and a mentee are not exactly on the same page; in the end, it is more important that the mentor and mentee are able to share experiences and are able to communicate in a respectful and productive manner. This is true of both one-on-one mentoring relationships and group mentoring, and even of peer mentoring and reverse mentoring.