Each quarter we will feature a story about our Parchment alumni here.
By Dave Person
Just eight years out of Parchment High School and four years since she graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Leila Bouabdellaoui is hard at work using her two engineering degrees in the area of transportation technology.
A transportation engineer with HDR Inc. in Pittsburgh, Bouabdellaoui is involved in cutting-edge technology involving autonomous and connected vehicles.
Autonomous vehicles can sense their environment and navigate without human input. Connected vehicles have internet access and the capability of sharing it with devices both inside and outside of the vehicle."We are... doing the implementation of pilot projects in different cities and working with state DOTs (Departments of Transportation) in putting together a plan for the future in how they will use the technology," she says.
Bouabdellaoui, 26, who has been with HDR for over two years now, also has been designing roadways, which gives her a lot of satisfaction, especially if it's a road in Pittsburgh that she can drive on and see the difference her design has made in traffic flow and safety.
"I like that I get to help cities and states improve their transportation systems, and I get to see my projects put into action," she says.
"In high school I thought I wanted to be a city planner," Bouabdellaoui says. "That along with some interest in architecture got me into engineering."
Bouabdellaoui attended the Kalamazoo Area Math & Science Center half-days for all four years of high school, was senior class president at Parchment and was valedictorian of the Class of 2009.
A member of the cross-country, track, soccer, basketball and powerlifting teams at Parchment, Bouabdellaoui says sports played a big part in her formative years.
"One of the things I enjoyed most about Parchment was definitely the sports," she says. "If I wasn't doing homework I was at a practice."
She recalls three teachers, in particular, who provided her inspiration along the way - Wayne Hinton, Rich Hruska and Kevin Huff.
"They're all very different," she says, "but I really connected with all of them and they helped motivate me in different ways."
She chose to attend Carnegie Mellon not only for its engineering program, but also because she would be able to continue participating in sports there without an imposing schedule that would affect her academics.
"I played soccer and ran track there for my first two years and then I ran cross country and track my last two years," she says.
She also concentrated on her studies, earning two bachelor's degrees - in civil and environmental engineering and in engineering and public policy.
Her first job out of college was as an air-quality engineer for an oil and gas company for a year and a half before she landed the job at HDR.
Working in a professional environment with many different personalities has been one of Bouabdellaoui's greatest challenges, she says, but one that she enjoys.
"We work on design teams," she says. "Everyone has their own part working together as a team."
Bouabdellaoui says she misses Michigan, and especially the strong sense of community she experienced here. Both of her parents, as well as her younger brother, Jamal, still live in Parchment. Her mother, Carol, teaches at the high school.
"I think the biggest thing overall is there is such a supportive community in Parchment; I was involved in a lot of things growing up," she says.
"Being involved in all the things I really cared about helped me to development leaderships skills that I still put into practice today."
"Now at my work I'm becoming more involved," she says, including participation in the National Young Professionals Leadership Team there.
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