Ister Morales, PE, PMP
SENIOR PROJECT MANAGER
LOCATION: FAIRFAX, VA.
Ister Morales, PE, PMP
SENIOR PROJECT MANAGER
LOCATION: FAIRFAX, VA.
“It’s refreshing to work for a firm that takes risks, isn’t afraid of change, and constantly looks for ways to improve.”
As we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month and honor the contributions Hispanic people have made to STEM fields, the arts, and society, it’s the perfect opportunity to highlight our own Ister Morales. The vice chair of our Resilience Committee, she supports clients with the tools, services, and specialized expertise necessary to prepare for and recover from a disaster.
We asked Ister a few questions. Get to know her here:
Tell us about your career path.
I started my career 13 years ago as a field engineer responsible for construction management activities. I worked on two large projects in the Washington, D.C., Metro area: the 495 Express Lanes and the first phase of the Metro Silver Line.
After a couple of years in the field, I decided to dive into engineering design. I was interested in applying my construction field knowledge and ended up working as a transportation engineer doing roadway, highway, and drainage design.
I only worked on design-build jobs during my construction and transportation engineering years. While I thoroughly enjoyed both positions, I was always interested in learning more about the transportation field; I was curious about the process and phases prior to projects being selected.
I then went back to school part-time to pursue my graduate degree at George Mason University while working as a transportation engineer. I took night classes that exposed me to transportation policy issues, transportation asset management, transportation planning, and other coursework that was part of my degree.
Why Gannett Fleming?
I joined the team in August 2017. At the time, I was looking for engineering firms where I could apply my background experience, but I also wanted to work for a company that offered clients services beyond the traditional architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) service offerings. The opportunities for growth at Gannett Fleming are why I’m still here, along with the company’s emphasis on innovation and diversity and inclusion through different employee resource groups.
As a Hispanic woman in the transportation field, I’ve encountered nothing but encouragement, support, and great leadership from everyone I’ve worked with. It’s refreshing to work for a firm that takes risks, isn’t afraid of change, and constantly looks for ways to improve.
Tell us about your role and responsibilities here.
I’m a senior project manager for Management Consulting under the Integrated Risk Management Corporate Business Group. We provide business and technology solutions to clients for various types of infrastructure, supporting organizations to improve their services and ensure the reliability, safety, and security of their assets. What does this mean exactly? We help clients manage their infrastructure assets, advising and helping them to establish risk-based practices for their decision-making.
How does the firm support your professional development and career growth?
Gannett Fleming has provided me with multiple training opportunities, such as our Project Management Academy. The firm has also supported me in obtaining my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and participating in Transportation Research Board committees and conferences.
I’ve had the opportunity to be part of the firm’s Quality Leadership Team, Planning Leadership Team, Resilience Committee, and Connected Relationships™ Mentoring Program. Additionally, Gannett Fleming has encouraged me to collaborate with other business groups and employees, resulting in some of the most interesting and innovative project opportunities and great internal connections.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?
Knowing that our work positively impacts the traveling public and being able to assist our clients in making transportation systems safe, reliable, and secure.
What do you see for the next generation of employees at Gannett Fleming?
Continued innovation, improved communication, greater diversity, and even more space to bring your true self to work.
How does your work contribute to the firm's vision of creating a better future, together?
Our work creates a more resilient future. For example, I worked on several Federal Highway Administration projects to incorporate extreme weather and climate into asset management practices. We coordinated with two states that experience different weather-related risks.
For one state, we identified factors contributing to flooding at the top flooded location in that state. For the other state, we developed a geospatial database specific to resiliency and initiated the development of lifecycle management templates to address extreme weather and climate issues in its transportation network.
We assist clients in integrating risk and resilience management strategies at various levels of their organizations; promote a design philosophy that is based on resilience before, during, and after emergency events to help minimize and mitigate impacts on our clients, their customers, and the environment; and support the recovery of our clients’ assets to quickly rebuild and restore damaged infrastructure.
What leadership skills and characteristics do you rely on the most for success in your job and life?
Communication. It has helped me collaborate well with others in the company, regardless of their position, background, or discipline. And vulnerability. Admitting I don’t have all the right answers, staying curious, and asking questions have served me well in my professional and personal life.
Why is it important to have diversity around the table when working on projects?
Diversity in the workplace allows for different perspectives and solutions that may otherwise be missed.
How have your experiences led you to your current position?
My curious mind has led me to where I am now. When I was six years old and my parents were having their house built, I visited the site often and became interested in design and construction. When I was in college, I wondered how things were built. When I was in construction, I wondered what goes into creating and developing a full set of plan sheets for a project. When I was in design, I questioned how decisions are made on specific projects. To answer each of those questions, I took the academic steps required while also taking advantage of networking and mentorship opportunities along the way.
Could you tell us about your cultural background?
I was born and raised in Valencia, Venezuela, and moved to the U.S. when I was 16. I learned English as an extracurricular activity when I was young but never had to use it until we moved to Arlington, Virginia. Transitioning from a private Catholic school in Venezuela to a public school in the states was an interesting and challenging experience, and I joined every school activity I could to improve my English.
I would describe Venezuelans as family-oriented, lively, resilient, welcoming, helpful, and passionate about food and music. Now that I have a three-year-old daughter, I teach her everything I can about Venezuelan culture, and she already helps to make arepas at home.
What are your favorite hobbies?
Playing the piano and stationary cycling. I’ve also recently started rollerblading.
Let's talk family!
I’ve been married to my husband for 12 and a half years, and we have a daughter named Olivia.
What's your favorite family tradition?
Serenading family members first thing in the morning on their birthdays and bringing gifts to their bedside.
What's something most people don't know about you?
I was part of a step team in high school. I also once took a career break to travel and volunteer in Southeast Asia for nine months.
What are your favorite ways to unwind after a busy day?
Paddleboarding at the beach and painting with my daughter.
If you could live in any city, where would it be and why?
I’d choose any city that’s close to the beach, particularly near crystal clear, light blue waters. I grew up near the coast of the Caribbean Sea, and some of my best childhood memories were at the beach.
My husband is from Puerto Rico. We used to travel there at least once a year to see his family and visit the beaches. Shortly before the pandemic, we purchased a townhouse there. While working from home, we enjoyed life in the small town of Boqueron, which was more isolated than our home in the D.C. area. My daughter was eight months old at the time and could spend more time exploring outdoors during a crucial development stage for her. Since then, we visit Puerto Rico as often as we can, while thinking of ways to be resilient (backup power, spring water sources, multiple internet sources).
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