Jennifer Pangborn remembers exactly where she was when she learned she had been named one of Engineering News-Record's (ENR) “National Top 20 Under 40.”
“I was at a restaurant in Louisville talking with an underserved community about enhancing transit to their neighborhood when I got the call about the award,” she said. “That’s a memory I’ll never forget because I had no idea it was a thing, let alone that my name was in the running. It was really unexpected and exciting, and I'm still trying to fathom it.”
Pangborn was honored by the magazine at the regional and national level for her work promoting equity and social justice as a transportation professional and enhancing active transportation options for all users and abilities — work that may not be obvious to many people.
"The example I always give when I’m asked how these factors intersect is that I focus on helping communities that have higher obesity and heart conditions, but don't have safe, well-lit areas to walk or access to transit get options that can lead to more activity,” she said. “When looking at transportation, I'm generally looking at where money has not been invested and how we can improve a community's needs so it feels safe and secure."
Pangborn originally transferred to the engineering school at Washington University in St. Louis from the Milwaukee School of Engineering to study civil engineering, but soon discovered she had an interest in transportation, public policy and communications. She would go on to earn a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering and a Master of Science in construction management, both in 2006.
She would return to WashU later that year to teach a course in communications for the Henry Edwin Sever Institute, a skill she feels is vital for the work engineers do. Pangborn, an assistant vice president and manager for a traffic and ITS (intelligent transportation systems), makes sure to focus on enhancing social networking and people skills with the team she leads.
“While I love the technical engineering side, I love people,” she said. “Everything we do is about improving people's lives, whether it’s constructing a building or designing a bike lane. It's all about the people who are going to use it.”
One such project has Pangborn writing a policy handbook for every street in her hometown of Milwaukee, which will focus on equity and improving public health. Pangborn grew up in Milwaukee, but moved to St. Louis to attend WashU. She remained in the city after graduation.
“You wait your whole life for a cool project and one that means so much,” Pangborn said. “This takes everything that I focus my career on — my passion for people, enhancing quality of life, and focusing on equity and resiliency — for a project in the city I grew up in.”
For students looking to find their own passion, Pangborn recommends taking part in as many real-world experiences as possible, whether that be through internships or professional organizations. She credits those experiences with helping her find her own path after graduation.
“WashU sets you up in so many ways to be successful,” she said. “They prepare you to think outside the box in ways that I didn’t realize until I was out of school, and it’s cool to think back on that now.”