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Meet Mariela Garcia-Colberg!

Mariela Garcia-Colberg
Program Manager-International Programs
Member Services Department

What are the job elements you focus on the most—your primary responsibilities?

I make sure that APTA ­members have all the information they need about what is happening internationally.

I arrange for international speakers to participate in APTA meetings and put together the International Showcase at EXPO. I also run free virtual trade missions or webinars that let our members know what’s happening in specific countries.

To be as well informed as possible about public transit around the world, I build relationships with my counterparts at DOT and its modal administrations, and make connections with commercial attachés at foreign embassies in Washington and at U.S. embassies around the world. I organize embassy roundtables four times a year to share information about APTA and invite embassy staff members to our meetings. It is also an opportunity to let embassy staff know they can bring delegations from their countries to visit APTA.

Do you have direct contact with APTA members? If so, please talk about recent times you’ve helped out a member.

As staff advisor to the Business Member International Business Development Subcommittee, I provide outreach to committee members with information about international procurement, conferences and events.

I’m also in touch with transit systems; they are my partners when it comes to showing international delegations U.S. best practices. When international delegations come to APTA, I invite both business members and transit systems to make presentations. I help them network.

What initiatives, projects, or programs have you worked on at APTA that you have taken particular pride in completing?

We’ve had several international delegations at the APTA offices in the past few months: China, Northern Ireland, Argentina, and Israel. Each visit is unique. I thoroughly enjoy ­putting the presentations together, inviting our guest agencies, and getting to know the delegation members.

APTA has memorandums of understanding with eight international partners that let us work together on some of the common challenges of the industry.

How did you “land” at APTA? How long have you worked here?

I was a program manager for the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) in Arlington. A consultant with whom I was working told me that APTA was looking to fill its international position and ­suggested I apply.

My first day at APTA was Sept. 28, 2013—during the Annual Meeting in Chicago! I was immediately immersed in the APTA world. I wasn’t expecting to meet so many people at one time in such a busy environment. KellyAnne Gallagher introduced me to transit agency CEOs and business members, and I attended meetings of the Business Member Board of Governors committees. It was a really intense experience.

Have you held other jobs in the public transportation industry?

I first became interested in ­public transit in 2007 when, as a corporate and real estate attorney, I attended a workshop on light rail in San Juan, Puerto Rico. That day I decided I wanted to study urban planning, so I applied to the University of Maryland, entering the doctoral program in the fall of 2008. In 2011 I decided not to finish my Ph.D., but soon became a federal grants administrator and program manager for NVTC. My work for the agency introduced me to many transit issues in the Washington metropolitan area, and I learned a lot. My passion for transit was ignited and I knew I had found a career I would enjoy.

What professional affiliations do you have?

Women’s Transportation Seminar, District of Columbia Bar Association, American Planning Association.

Could you tell us something about yourself that might surprise us?

I’m a native of Puerto Rico who came to St. Louis at age 18 to attend Washington University. I spoke only Spanish then; I could read and write English but didn’t speak it, so people thought I was shy. It took me awhile to become brave enough to speak. My father is an attorney and, after getting my bachelor’s degree at Washington University and a master of social work degree from Boston College, I went to law school back in Puerto Rico. After almost 10 years, I decided I needed a new career—and entered the urban planning doctoral program at the University of Maryland.

My multicultural, bilingual background has made me very open-minded and aware of both the similarities and differences among people. It also makes me patient when working with other people.

Make sure you see Mariela Garcia-Colberg’s video, now that you've read this!

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