In January, Kirsten Tilleman will begin her two-year term as president of the Oregon chapter of the American Planning Association (OAPA).
“As the board president, I will navigate OAPA’s mission, committees, strategic initiatives and behind-the-scene workings to help keep the board and chapter focused and functioning,” said Tilleman, an environmental and safety/security planner in the Portland, Oregon office.
Tilleman will represent the Oregon chapter at the national level and represent national APA at the state level. “It will be an exciting challenge to lead a mostly volunteer organization, which requires balancing accountability with support and gratitude,” she said. “I look forward to joining such a motivated and experienced group of past, current and future APA leaders.”
One of her first tasks will be guiding efforts to update the chapter’s strategic plan.
“The previous plan is a solid foundation, but we’re thinking bigger this time around—a focused vision and mission, more input and voice from our membership, strategic communications to convey what we do and gather input on what we should do, and action-based initiatives,” she said. “We’ve organized the process to encourage ownership from our membership. I believe the engagement techniques we employ might someday be applicable to a WSP project or client.”
Another goal, Tilleman said, is to bring a “tangible, actionable approach” to improving diversity, equity and inclusion within the organization – and the planning profession in general.
Tilleman served as the chair of OAPA’s emerging planners group for two years until October 2017. Her experiences with OAPA has created opportunities that have benefitted her career.
“OAPA gives me a chance to build a broader network with planners with expertise beyond transportation—city planning, sustainability planning, master planning and more,” she said. “OAPA is enthusiastic about an early-career professional stepping into this role, and I look forward to the challenges and accomplishments the next few years will bring.”
Tilleman’s responsibilities at WSP focus on environmental and safety/security planning for transportation projects.
“On the environmental side, I usually work on socioeconomic, environmental justice and cumulative impacts assessments,” she said. “My safety/security work is focused on assessing risk related to transit systems—such as bus rapid transit, bus, light rail and high-speed rail—and includes data gathering, analysis, planning and certification. I also provide safety and security training to transit agencies.”
One of her current projects is a risk assessment for MTA Metro-North in response to the 2015 rail crash at Valhalla, New York. She is leading the research team in surveying international rail agencies to identify similar incidents to include in the risk assessment.
“Our team is assessing the risk associated with third rail at-grade crossings in response to the National Transportation Safety Board's accident investigation report findings and recommendations,” Tilleman said. “There are over a dozen international third rail lines with at-grade crossings across Germany, France, the UK and Norway. We are reaching out to the operating agencies through our WSP offices in those countries.”
Outside of project work, Tilleman serves on WSP’s Developing Professionals Network (DPN) national committee as the co-lead for the West region, and previously served as Portland’s DPN office lead.
“WSP keeps me engaged through its excellent people and diverse projects,” Tilleman said. “I’m working with the best of the best to make a positive difference in the everyday lives of people through transportation—often without people even noticing.”
Originally from Bozeman, Montana, Tilleman graduated from Oregon State University with a bachelor’s degree in natural resources, and earned her master’s degree in conservation planning from the University of California-Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management.
She said “many small moments” contributed to a career path that led her to WSP in January 2014.
“I try to remain open to new opportunities, even if it’s something I haven’t considered before,” Tilleman said. “I never expected to work in transit system safety and security, but early-career flexibility and great coworkers led me down the track I am enthusiastically pursuing today.”
That flexibility played a role in a 2015 volunteer opportunity with Bridges to Prosperity (B2P).
“I was fortunate to travel to Bolivia with a team of WSP and Kiewit colleagues to construct a pedestrian bridge through B2P, a non-profit that fights poverty and rural isolation by working with communities to build bridges where they’re severely needed,” Tilleman said. She now serves on the WSP B2P steering committee to support additional opportunities for the firm’s involvement with B2P projects.
She is also on the steering committee for Dig In, a Portland-area environmental organization that brings together service and conservation groups and supports the development of youth leaders for environmental causes.
“This type of volunteer work is important to me because our experiences outdoors not only help build healthier ecosystems, but also healthier people and communities,” she said. “Plus, I enjoy getting my hands dirty working outside.”