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Project Manager, Freight Rail/Transit AECOM
— by Julie Sneider, senior associate editor
Alanna Strohecker got hooked on rail while growing up in Westchester County, N.Y., where she rode the MTA Metro-North Railroad to get to school.
"I loved riding the train. I rode with a great group of girls and we did our homework together. I loved the ability to be independent with public transportation systems," she says.
Years later, her love of trains surfaced again after she graduated from Villanova University with a degree in engineering and went to work for DMJM Harris, the transportation engineering firm and predecessor to AECOM.
Initially, Strohecker imagined herself designing roller coasters for Disney World. But at DMJM Harris, she was offered a position in the rail/transit group. Over the next few years, she prepared engineering projects for the nation's largest freight railroads.
In 2006, Strohecker left DMJM, moved to Maryland to get married and joined Wabtec Railway Electronics, where she managed million-dollar-plus accounts. Her stay in Maryland also allowed her time to complete an MBA at the University of Maryland. Her stated goal on her MBA studies application: to become the first woman CEO of a Class I railroad.
In 2008, she followed husband Mike to Seattle, where she became regional manager of economic development for BNSF Railway's North and South Dakota territory. As part of the BNSF team responsible for the first crude-oil facility's construction in North Dakota, Strohecker found herself at the start of the Bakken crude-oil boom.
“I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. It was an incredible experience,” she says.
Over the next two years, she handled from conception to construction other new rail-served facilities, and managed all transload facilities within North and South Dakota. In 2010, she accepted an offer to return to AECOM, and she and her husband moved to Philadelphia, where the firm named her project manager for its general engineering contract with CSX Transportation. Currently, she also serves as project manager for the Amtrak terminal infrastructure project at Union Station in Washington, D.C.
She attributes her career success in part to maintaining connections with former and current colleagues such as Roger Heebner, an AECOM vice president and someone Strohecker describes as a mentor.
"Alanna has made numerous friends at all levels in the industry and has many supporters from her projects and associations,” Heebner wrote in nominating Strohecker for the Rising Stars award. "She is a natural team leader who has been able to instill an enthusiasm in her staff."
Strohecker also strives to maintain balance in her life inside and outside the office. For a time after college, she participated in community theater productions and sang in choral groups, an experience that she describes as a "nice creative outlet to fit the other side of the engineer’s brain."
Maintaining work-life balance also means having confidence to make the right choices for oneself at the right time, she says. It's advice she shares with younger engineers.
"Whatever your decision is, it's not the last decision you'll ever make," she says. "There will be opportunities in the future. You make the best decision you can at the time. That's as good as you can do."
Rising Stars 2015 Award Winners:
Francois Belanger, CN
Todd Blaylock, HNTB Corp.
Jonathan Chastek, Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Co.
Oliver Dolder, Railtech Welding & Equipment
John Riley Edwards, RailTEC, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Stefan Loeb, Watco Cos. LLC
Jessica Moore, Union Pacific Railroad
Amanda Nightingale, King County Metro Transit
Celia Ann Pfleckl, Amtrak
Charles Rennick, Providence & Worcester Railroad Co.
Kaleigh Reyes, GE Transportation
Rebecca Reyes-Alicea, Federal Railroad Administration
Bruno Riendeau, VIA Rail Canada Inc.
Curtis Shogren, CSX Transportation
Alanna Strohecker, AECOM
Keith Tarkalson, Stacy & Witbeck
Brett Urquhart, Rocla Concrete Tie Inc.
Tara Vesey, Dakota Gasification Co.
Lexie Walker, Metra
Adam Weiskittel, BNSF Railway Co.