Caltrans engineer Susan Collins gives tips for success in a male-dominated field on Redlands Career Spotlight



Redlands Career Spotlight is a weekly series in which ETHIC interviews a Redlands professional and asks him or her about their education, career, hobbies and more in order to give readers a more nuanced view into job prospects after high school.  This week, ETHIC had the privilege of interviewing trombonist, gardener and Caltrans engineer Susan Collins.

Q: What is your profession? Where have you worked?

A: I am a Transportation Engineer and a Civil Engineer. I have worked for the California Department of Transportation since 1979. I started working for Caltrans in 1979 as a student assistant. December 6 will mark around 36 years. I have worked as an inspector, Assistant Resident Engineer and Resident Engineer. Amongst the many projects I have worked on, the most memorable projects were the construction of the 15/91 interchange project in Corona, construction of Route 210 from the Los Angeles County Line to Route 215, widening of I-10 from the LA County Line to 4th Street in Ontario and the Urban Interchange at I-10 and Sierra Avenue in Fontana.

I have previously worked at UC Riverside as a research lab assistant cleaning lab equipment when I was in high school. My Dad was a chemist at UCR. I worked at U-Haul one summer writing rental contracts and washing trucks. In addition, I worked at General Telephone Company (now Verizon) in their As-Built plans division as a draftsman, as a photo  booth clerk at Citrus Village, in the Video and Graphic Arts Department while in college at the University of Idaho and in the Caltrans Division of Design for three years before working in the Division of Construction, where I currently work.

Q: Where did you get your education?

A: At Crafton Hills College, Riverside City College, San Bernardino Valley College and the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, where I studied Architecture and Engineering. I also studied law at Simon Greenleaf School of Law in Anaheim.

Q: Did you enjoy your time in college?

A: Absolutely! My Mom was from Pocatello, Idaho, and she told us stories as kids about the beauty of the state and especially the snow!

I love to learn. I hope to formally study music once I retire from Caltrans. I hope to arrange and compose music.

Q: Was becoming an engineer for Caltrans something you always wanted to do?

A: Since I was about three years old I always wanted to play trombone. I originally wanted to major in music performance, hoping to seek a career as a studio artist and a trombonist in a philharmonic orchestra.

I was totally unaware of Caltrans’ existence until my second summer break from college. I had attended a band rehearsal with a local friend. One of my friends’ dads asked me what I was up to, like all dads do. I told him I was looking for a summer job. The next day I received a phone call from the personnel coordinator at the Caltrans office in San Bernardino (District 8) and was immediately hired the very next day as a Student Assistant. I worked continually from 1979 to 1980 during breaks from school. In December, 1982, I was hired full-time as an Engineer.

Q: What is the hardest part of your job?

A: The hardest part is figuring out how to read plans and dealing with obstinate, know-it-all, foul-mouthed contractors.

I spent my first 3 ½  years working  in Design and modifying the plans for the Route 15/91 Interchange Project in Corona. I was able to work on this project in construction. The majority of my career has been in construction. I have absolutely loved it!

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

A: Being a good steward of taxpayers’ money, making sure the project gets built correctly and being able to identify and solve construction problems that no one else can.

I worked in the mountains from Redlands to Wrightwood for about six years. The people were extraordinary and projects were challenging.

Q: What are the biggest misconceptions about your line of work?

A: State workers are lazy and only want to collect a paycheck. Having a Professional Engineers License makes you better equipped to perform engineering work than those without a license. Experience is more important. Anyone who can read with comprehension can pass a test, but it does not mean you can perform the job adequately.

Q: Do you have any advice for high school students?

A: Pay attention to detail, exercise common sense, respect yourself and others and trust your ability to lead! Knowledge is everything.

Q: What is your favorite location in Redlands?

A: Prospect Park. I have always loved Kimberly Crest and the forest-like atmosphere. Ford Park, too!

Q: What do you do in your free time?

A: I play trombone in several ensembles, like the CSUSB Jazz Ensemble, Redlands Community Orchestra, Sozo Jazz Band, Riverside Children’s Theater, Junior University Musical Theater, Terrace View Musical Theater, Redlands 4th of July Band, anywhere someone needs a trombone player and I study with a professional  in town.

I love landscaping projects and gardening. My very first job when I was about 11 years old was working for family friends who owned a nursery. I love it!

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