Never doubt who you are and all that you have accomplished. You’ve earned your seat at the table and no one or nothing should make you feel otherwise.
Who is Iftin Thompson?
I am a second-generation Somali-American born in Washington D.C and raised in Maryland. I am a dynamic, tenacious, and goal-driven individual with a mission to positively impact the field of transportation. I have over three years of direct experience in transportation engineering/planning and two years of experience conducting research in traffic safety. I am proud HBCU graduate with a passion for traveling and have had the opportunity to travel all over the world. I am devoted to living an active lifestyle by attending the gym regularly and maintaining a healthy diet. My mother is my biggest supporter and my favorite person in the world.
I have Bachelor’s of Science in Transportation Systems Engineering from Morgan State University and a Master’s of Science in Civil Engineering from Iowa State University of Science and Technology. I also have a Certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which I obtained during my studies at Iowa State.
How did you choose to pursue this field?
My initial decision to pursue a career in transportation can be traced back to my childhood as I always had an appreciation and inquisitiveness for transportation. Growing up, I was raised by a single mother and we relied on public transportation as our main form of transport. As my mother also worked for two major airlines, I was fortunate to be able to see the behind-the-scenes operations of an airline and airport authority. This sparked my interest in transportation and ultimately led to my decision to attend college and pursue a career in transportation engineering.
Who was your inspiration or role model that guided you to this field?
My mother inspired me to pursue a career in engineering. She was the first person to recognize my passion and enrolled me in the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) engineering program during my first year of middle school. Once I was enrolled in the PLTW program I was introduced to my very first engineering class, which made me very excited about the subject. My mother quickly noticed how much I enjoyed my engineering classes and encouraged me to continue the PLTW program through high school.
Did you always have the desire to work in this field? If not, what was your intended field? Why did you change careers?
I have always had a desire for STEM starting from a very young age. If I didn’t become an engineer, I probably would’ve become a chemist. I enjoyed chemistry a lot growing up and would often conduct at-home chemistry experiments that would sometimes get a little out of hand if I must admit. However, by the time I started college I knew I wanted to be an engineer. Initially, I enrolled in the electrical engineering program, but quickly realized it wasn’t something I enjoyed. After my mother’s encouragement, I decided to take a transportation engineering course which I began to enjoy almost instantly. Little did I know this was the beginning of my future in transportation engineering.
What do you love most about your job?
I love developing innovative solutions to a wide range of transportation problems facing people every day.
What has been the most rewarding thing at your job?
It’s rewarding to know that your work can positively impact how people move throughout their everyday life. It’s especially rewarding when I work on projects in underrepresented communities who are need of more adequate and efficient transportation infrastructure.
What things would you change about your job?
I would change the political aspect of my job. I would also change the way my industry focuses a lot on single occupancy vehicular traffic and instead create more efficient projects towards transit and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure.
What has been the most difficult or disappointing aspect of your job?
It’s difficult not seeing projects implemented especially in underrepresented communities or in areas where improved transportation infrastructure is needed most.
How have you combated the stigma of being a “woman of color” in STEM?
I have combated the stigma of being a “woman of color” in STEM by staying knowledgeable in my field and remaining the best engineer I can be. I always make sure I assist other women of color and encourage the younger generation to pursue careers in STEM reminding them how girls can be engineers too!
What tips would you offer for anyone thinking about entering into your profession?
My biggest tip would be to work hard and make sure you’re passionate about engineering. There will be moments where you’re stressed and begin to question your career path. However, for every “bad” moment there will be even more great moments where you absolutely love it and happy you chose engineering as your profession. This field isn’t easy, but your passion will sustain you through the hard moments.
What advice would you give your younger self about your career journey as a “woman of color” working in a predominantly white, male-dominated field?
My advice to my younger self would be to remain confident. So what you’re the only black women in the office! You’re just as smart and educated as everyone else in this room. Don’t allow your place as being the only black women keep you from recognizing your worth.
Can you provide some words of wisdom to young ladies thinking about entering a STEM field as a career choice?
As a woman of color entering in a white male-dominated field, you may often begin to question your position or even your self-worth. However, be sure to always remind yourself that you are more than capable of getting the job done. Never doubt who you are and all that you have accomplished. You’ve earned your seat at the table and no one or nothing should make you feel otherwise.
What is your favorite Quote? How do you apply this to your life?
My favorite quote is by Shirley Chisholm, the first black women to be elected to Congress, the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for President of the United States, the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination and the first woman to appear in a United States presidential debate. She stated, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Although this was said almost two generations ago this quote still applies today. As a black woman in a STEM field, we need to create our own seat at the table and bring an extra seat for the next generation.
What are your future goals related to your career?
My goal is to one day create better roads in rural and developing areas of countries in Africa. In my profession, I live by the quote “The road out of poverty is paved with better transportation.” A strong and efficient transportation infrastructure leads to economic growth and prosperity.
How has your family influenced your journey and provide support?
My family is my biggest support system. They encouraged me to pursue a career in engineering and continue to provide me with support as I grew in my field. They also taught me that through faith and hard work I will always succeed.
Contact Iftin for any further questions:
We hope you enjoyed learning about our latest “STEMsation”, please comment about how her experiences have inspired you, how your experiences can inspire others and nominate our next “STEMsation to spotlight their amazing accomplishments.