Civil and environmental engineering major Melody Veldorale '22, '23 is among the UMass Dartmouth graduates who walked across the commencement stage with a job offer already secured.
For Melody, it’s not just a job, but an opportunity of a lifetime: Melody will begin work as a general engineer at the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center ("the Volpe Center"), a research and technology company sponsored by the United States government. In their new position, Melody will travel internationally and use geographic information systems (GIS) mapping to help preserve and protect the environment.
Finding the right fit
Melody’s story is unique, but their struggle to find the right career path is something many students can relate to.
"I’m a nontraditional student; I have been through multiple career changes before I finally found the right fit. I worked as a middle school math teacher in Florida with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a mathematics teaching certification. When I decided to leave teaching, I studied environmental science. When I didn’t find a job in that field, I taught English in China for two years. I finally decided to go back to school for environmental engineering, and I chose UMass Dartmouth for the reputation of its engineering programs. That’s when I truly found my place."
"I was interested in environmental science and natural resources, and I learned that I would have more opportunities to make a difference as an environmental engineer."
What was the focus of your research?
"I worked with my advisor, Dr. Daniel MacDonald, conducting drone surveys of salt marshes and studying marsh hydrology. This is important because marshes play a number of important roles in the overall health of an ecosystem."
How has UMassD prepared you for your future?
"The Civil and Environmental Engineering Department is full of really smart people with really interesting classes to take. I feel confident that I’m entering the workforce with a great foundation of knowledge to build on."
Do you have a favorite memory of UMassD?
"I loved being part of the ASCE Concrete Canoe Competition, where teams from across North America build and race canoes made of concrete. I also enjoyed being part of the Society of Women Engineers; we would go out to schools to teach about STEM."
What advice would you give to future students?
"Don’t try to cram or wait until the last minute to get things done; learn to manage your time, and it will pay off. I am autistic and have ADHD, so certain aspects of academic life have been especially challenging for me. I was able to develop coping skills and strategies that work for me (I live by my planner!), and I hope to encourage other people who have the same diagnoses."
How does it feel to have a job offer before graduation?
"I'm extremely excited! It takes away that 'now what?' feeling of trying to figure out your next move. I’ve also worked really hard over the last several years, so this feels like the payoff for that hard work. I can’t wait to get started in my new position. I love that this job will involve travel and learning new things – I will never be bored."
Employer Spotlight: the Volpe Center
Melody’s future employer, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center is a national and global leader in transportation research, analysis, technology, and innovation in support of the U.S. Department of Transportation; other federal agencies; state, local, and tribal agencies; international organizations; the private sector; and academia. The Volpe Center provides technical expertise and develops solutions to the most complex transportation challenges facing transportation and the nation, with specific emphasis on safety, security, equity, environment, energy, mobility, global competitiveness, and innovation to advance the nation’s transportation system for the public good.
Their areas of focus include energy and sustainability, safety information systems, infrastructure engineering, advanced vehicle technology, and communication, navigation, and surveillance systems, to name a few.
Touted as a "Nerd Lab," the Volpe Center is located in Cambridge's Kendall Square, often referred to as the "most innovative square mile on the planet."
La Var Williams, Director of Human Resources Operations and Chief Human Resources Officer at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, calls the SouthCoast home. As a South Dartmouth resident, he is passionate about connecting UMassD talent with internships, job opportunities, and careers at the U.S. DOT and the Volpe Center.
Opportunities at the Volpe Center for UMassD Students
In addition to job openings at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center and across U.S. DOT, they also offer a number of opportunities specifically for students and recent graduates, including a paid internship program. Learn more about what it’s like to work at the Volpe Center and about some of their staff’s journeys to a career in transportation here.
Who should apply?
The Volpe Center conducts research and develops new technology focused primarily on the future of transportation. But, their people come from many different disciplines: civil engineering, computer and electrical engineering, computer science, data science, cybersecurity, psychology, business, public policy, economics, and more.
Why work for the federal government?
"As a federal employee, you have a wide array of possibilities open to you," says Williams. "Is there a city or a part of the country you’ve always wanted to live in? When you work for the federal government, you can transfer all over the country without sacrificing your benefits. You can even change careers within the scope of federal employment if you want to try something new.
"Working for the government is also a unique opportunity to align your passion with a mission. As a federal employee, you can use your talents to make a historical difference and affect change. The work you do can have an impact on the entire nation – even the entire world."