A Liberal Arts Resume: By Gerry Boyle '78, Illustrations by Leo Pando

 

Colby Magazine: Winter 2003

Deborah Wathen Finn '74 was a government major who, at the suggestion of her mentor, Professor Gunter Weisberg, went on to earn a graduate degree in political science at Northern Illinois University. Wathen Finn planned to go into public service and landed as the executive assistant to the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation. The New Jersey DOT was embroiled in a marathon lobbying campaign to establish NJ Transit.

Wathen Finn jumped right in.

"It was all the things that I learned in Sandy Maisel's class," she said. "All the political science theory about how you create a constituency. . . . And I helped get something done that hadn't been done in ten years."

Wathen Finn went on to management posts at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and headed rail operations at NJ Transit. Now as vice president at HNTB, an architectural engineering firm that specializes in public transportation projects, Wathen Finn oversees the company's New York City office and the 80-plus employees there.

Her days are spent tracking projects that include airport expansions (the Bradley International Airport terminal in Hartford, Conn.) and major bridge construction (her company did the Charles River bridge project in Boston). With no engineering or architectural degree, she relies on the communication skills of her colleagues and her own analytical abilities. "It's all critical thinking," Wathen Finn said. "Why is this project one that we're positioned well to win? Why should we go for it?"

Once won, the projects sometimes involve issues that are emotionally charged as well. HNTB is involved in the reconstruction of the PATH train system that was destroyed in the World Trade Center attack--a project that goes beyond tracks and tunnels. The day after she spoke to Colby Wathen Finn was scheduled to inspect office space as HNTB considered a move downtown as part of a post-September 11 revitalization movement. "It's really about the quality of life and how lower Manhattan is going to look in the next century," Wathen Finn said.

That planned career in public policy? Wathen Finn found it in the business world.

 

 

 

   
   


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