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Lydia Grose: Orchestrating the Big Process

As far back as she can recall Lydia Grose was fascinated with how objects were put together and how they worked. As a child she would dismantle broken clocks and toasters and try to fix them. A favorite childhood activity was accompanying her father, a union construction manager, to a highway or commercial building work site. With wonder, she would watch the giant cranes, the massive excavators, and the heavy front loaders complete their tasks.

Grose entered Temple University with plans to major in Architecture. She soon discovered that she enjoyed planning and construction more than the creative and design process. She wasn't interested in details such as color, pattern or shape; she wanted to learn how to build things. Grose changed her major to civil engineering.

A highlight of her studies occurred during an internship with PennDOT. She was a 22-years-old college junior supervising a work crew pouring concrete for a highway project. When they heard her maiden name - Cole - several of the men remarked that they worked for a Ralph Cole many years ago. Was she related to him? She was. He was her father and he had died unexpectedly when she was 12-years-old. It was a heartfelt moment for her. She was managing some of the same men her father had supervised. The laborers told her they were proud and honored to be working for Ralph Cole's daughter.

After acquiring additional practical experience with an internship at SEPTA, Grose graduated from Temple in 1985. As an African American female seeking employment in the male dominated construction industry, she knew it would not be easy. A college professor had once asked why she was in his civil engineering class, as if she didn't belong there. His skepticism made her more determined to succeed.

In 1985, SEPTA received a federal grant to hire 20 minority professionals for positions in accounting, purchasing, electrical engineering and civil engineering and Grose joined SEPTA's Facilities Engineering Division. She has been with SEPTA for 25 years. When she arrived in the division - now the Engineering, Maintenance, and Construction Division - there were no other women. There are currently six female engineers. She reminds her female staff members that she is there to mentor them and champion their successes, but they need to build their own credibility.

"This business can be tough," said Grose. If they get their feelings hurt, I tell them to get it together."

Her current position is Manager of Engineering, Track Department. In this capacity, she serves as the leader of a group of project liaisons who serve outside government agencies, and large business stakeholders undertaking construction projects impacting SEPTA operations, as well as Authority initiated projects requiring municipal review. Her team of engineers and designer are tasked to resolve urgent and emergent issues before they can negatively affect SEPTA's operations. They also design new facilities for system upgrades.

"It's rewarding to go to project site, identify a problem, and give them a solution - tell them how to repair it - right there on the spot," she said.

Critical problems during the winter, such as broken utility connections, need to be managed and coordinated with the City of Philadelphia Water Department with expediency - before the flooding can impact the track structure and service. Grose and her staff must always be one step ahead, looking for any city, state or commercial construction project scheduled to take place in close proximity to SEPTA operating territory. Most municipalities contact SEPTA during the pre-permit stage to provide information about projects that may create direct or indirect consequences for the Authority's infrastructure. Some are discovered inadvertently, by a SEPTA employee driving pass the construction site.

"We look at everything that could turn into a problem for SEPTA," Grose said. "If you're planning to build over, under or around us, we need to know how it might affect us."

She makes sure to acknowledge her husband's contribution to her successful career. He's an inner city high school math teacher. Grose is fortunate that he can be home with their three children when she needs to work the unpredictable hours of a civil engineer.

Grose, a member of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO), is currently participating in a pilot program sponsored by its Philadelphia Chapter to mentor Temple engineering students who are members of the university's chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). The program seeks to promote career development by linking an engineer currently working in the construction industry with a student majoring in engineering.

"I was inspired to study engineering by Mr. Lewis Latimer, one of many unsung African American inventors in the 1800's. He worked with Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell," said Grose. "I was also inspired by Rosalene S. Cole, my mother. She helped me grow personally and professionally. I've benefited from her work ethic, her wisdom and wise council. I believe it's my obligation to encourage more women and minorities to consider a career in engineering."

Lydia Grose

(Left to right) Enjoli Edwards, Lydia Grose, Amanda Dilks, Tyler Ladd, Qwyn Durrett

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