Staff Spotlight

Staff Spotlight: Project Specialist, Melissa McCutcheon

Melissa joined TransOptions in 2018 in continuation of her professional commitment to the non-profit sector. Her previous work experience includes a broad array of programmatic, financial, and operational leadership. At TransOptions, Melissa helps facilitate educational outreach programs on sustainable alternative energy and air quality. She enjoys being a strong advocate for a healthy environment, active transportation, and engaged volunteers. Melissa has extensive experience in the outdoor community as a local trail maintainer, formerly-licensed skydiver, female winner of the 2016 Long Path Race Series, and member of the AMC 4000’ Club and Catskill 3500’ Club, where she serves on the board. She graduated from Loyola University Maryland with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications. She also holds a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. We asked Melissa to share a little bit more about herself! 

1. You became a part of TransOptions in the spring of last year. How has it been going for you?

I love it here! I feel very at home here, like I’ve been here forever, and also very excited, like I’m just getting started!

2. What originally drew you to TransOptions?

My closet full of neon reflective clothing! I’d been a long-distance road runner for many years and had first-hand knowledge of how scary and dangerous it can be for pedestrians on our roadways, so I really admired our outstanding pedestrian, bicycle, and driver safety programs. Then, when I interviewed here, what really stood out to me were staff stories of how even people who’d started here casually had become so hooked on our mission and all the ways their own mobility, safety, and environmental interests grew and flourished here. Also, I enjoy the outdoors and volunteering, so I also resonated with our larger mission of active transportation and serving our local community. I was already a huge fan of getting people moving in ways that were healthier for them and more sustainable for the planet, so I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to do this work.

3. What was the first program you worked on when you started and how was that experience?

Not your typical day at the office! I started here the day of one of our biggest events, the Junior Solar Sprints finals. It spoke volumes to me how much all the staff pitched in to help each other help the students. I’ve spent a lot of time in nonprofit so I’m very familiar with the all-hands-on-deck, everybody-carry-something event schlep, and I have a ton of positive energy so it was fun to let it loose and share in the kids’ exuberance. I was relieved to throw myself into things right away, and I love being able to ask, ”How can I help?” which I got to do all day. Instead of feeling nervous starting a new job, I’ve felt welcomed and useful and a part of the team since day one.

4. What do you like most about working here?

My coworkers, and our shared sense of the organization’s mission. It’s definitely the most creative, high-performing team I’ve ever been a part of, and we also have a lot of fun here, too. There really are no silos here, and everyone is so competent and productive. I feel very lucky to work alongside colleagues who are all so good at what they do, and I think we all help raise the bar for each other. I also feel proud to work for what I believe is a really forward-thinking, future-facing organization, and my work here in environmental education, teaching hands-on about alternative fuel sources and air quality, feels extremely relevant and proactive.

5. What are some major accomplishments you’re especially proud of that you would like to share?

I loved how well our Hydrogen Challenge volunteer awards came out. We hand-made them using defunct fuel cells and repurposed scrap oak. Speaking of volunteers, I’m proud of the
new relationships I’ve fostered. Volunteers are such generous and gifted people and I’m always super flattered when awesome people are willing to come out and share their time with a smile. As for being flattered, I absolutely beam during our in-school solar-car workshops when I feel a tug on my sleeve and it’s a student who wants to show me—ME!— what they built! It’s such a cool feeling!

6. What are some challenges you have encountered in your role and how have you overcome them?

I spent a summer once jumping out of airplanes, but sometimes I still get so nervous about sharing a thought or idea in the office! It’s been such a pleasant shock to the system to work in an environment with such high-level creative freedom, but sometimes I can psych myself out, like, is my program idea really dumb? When we do the solar car workshops, I watch the kids tinker and adjust, and I admire their eagerness to just try different things without fear of failure, so remembering again how to hang tough during the trial-and-error creative process seems like a rare and wonderful opportunity.

7. What motivates you most to be a part of the environmental education program?

The scientific community’s urgent call for action against climate change and by extension fossil fuels. I when I go into a school, I see myself as another young person the kids can relate and look up to, and I do my absolute best to show them that I believe that what I’m doing up there is important. I want to express my optimism and enthusiasm for their abilities and their future. I’m very much a cheerleader at heart, and I love rooting for every student, and getting them excited about their potential and/in the STEM fields. I’d love to put on repeat, if I could, students’ ‘Eureka!’ moment of success—it changes everything.

8. If you had to pick a favorite TransOptions program, what would it be and why?

Our social media is the best! If you’re not following us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, you should be! You’ll be the first to know about our local bike share, free community programs, and any contests or giveaways. Our posts always hit the sweet spot of being feelgood, timely, and practical, and will keep you informed about all the latest local transportation issues affecting you, provide practical safety tips and resources, as well as keep you laughing and provide a fun window into our office culture and all the other really cool things we work on.

9. We heard you carpool with another TransOptions coworker! How’s that going?

I carpooled this morning! It was the third time this week. It’s actually much easier and more fun. It makes the morning commute infinitely better to laugh and chat, and feels super luxurious to have someone else drive home at the end of a long day. You get the same warm fuzzy feeling as bringing your own reusable bags to the store, and it requires the same kind of consistency to become a habit. It’s awesome to share a ride, save money, and keep one more car off the road.