Angel Correa: AHTD reaching out to the Latino community

Angel L. Correa’s windows looks out over downtown Little Rock, and while now it’s an easy elevator ride to his corner office on the third floor of Federal Building on Capitol Avenue, his rise to U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Arkansas Division Administrator the agency’s top Arkansas spot wasn’t without a few missteps along the way, he remembers.

Correa grew up in Puerto Rico, a tropical paradise that has been under American rule since Spanish-American War in 1898 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. So while Correa is Latino, he is an American citizen by birth.

After high school graduation, he earned a BS in Civil Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, but instead of remaining on the island with winter temps that hover around 85 degrees, he set his sights on a job with the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA).

Hola! 504 ANGEL CORREA 3 “I started working for Federal Highways straight out of college, and my position was in Baltimore,” he says.

He packed up his bags and moved to Maryland in 1990 for the FHWA’s Federal Highway Training Program. While he spoke English, he felt the move would require him to “polish his English language” skills.  He says, “It was a calculated risk,”

In 1992, he transferred to FWHA’s Maryland Division as an Area Engineer.

His job was to deliver the federal-aid program, including design, planning, environment, construction, maintenance and preservation of the country’s transportation system. In other words, he helped build bridges and roadways from the ground up.

He earned a MS in Civil Engineering with a focus on Transportation Facilities from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Ill. in 1999.

During the yHola! 504 ANGEL CORREA 4ears that followed, Correa worked for the FHWA’s Pavements Division in Washington, D.C., as senior Pavement & Material Engineer and Project Delivery team leader, both jobs were in Atlanta, Ga., and as Corporate Recruitment & Careers Programs chief, also in Washington.

Along the way, he has received a number of honors and award: including FHWA Administrator’s Award for Superior Achievement, DOT Secretary’s Partnering for Excellence Award, FHWA Administrator’s Award for Excellence in Teamwork, and the National Highway Institute’s Instructor of Excellence.

Then last year at 47, he left Washington and stepped into the then temporary, 90-day position as Division Administrator in Little Rock.

Suddenly life slowed down.

“It was a faster, different lifestyle,” he says about life at the nation’s capitol. But Correa quickly decided Little Rock was a place he and his wife, Daisy, of 24 years could enjoy.

The couple have two grown children.

Correa says, “When I took this job, people asked me, ‘Why, Arkansas?’ He says he replies, “The people are friendly and it’s a very progressive area.”

Plus, the job seemed a good fit for Correa, so he applied for and accepted the permanent position that oversees 15 federal employees.

Danya Steele, who has been with FHWA for eight years, says people are naturally a little nervous when a new boss comes in but she adds, “He [Correa] made the transition smooth for us.”

Correa can speak to the average layman as well as the most complicated government-ese.

FHWA Area Engineer Lester Frank, who also attended the conference, says Correa has a technical, as well as a managerial background.

“He [Correa] understands the technical issues involved with project planning and development, and pavements and materials, but also has great communication and people skills. Also, the fact that he has worked in all three of the main offices within FHWA including our local Division Offices, regional Resource Centers, and our Headquarters Office in D.C. gives him a very unique and well-rounded perspective,” Frank says.

As a featured speaker at the conference, Correa said his department’s role is to be flexible, and to continuing providing leadership and training at the state level. Correa says the ultimate aim is to partner with the AHTD to maximize its funding options. In other words, he says, “to do more with the limited resources we have.”

That’s an important at this time because President Barack Obama signed the FAST Act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act) into law December 4, 2015. It could be worth about an additional $250 million in federal dollars to Arkansas over the next five years.

Correa says, “It provides monies to maintain current program structures and funding shares between highway and transit.”

When asked, AHTD Director Bennett says his department is pleased to have a person of Correa’s “knowledge and experience as our new Division Administrator.”

Bennett says, “It's extremely important to have an administrator that can help us navigate and use the federal requirements to our advantage. Angel also has a diverse background with extensive experience as a Pavements and Materials Engineer.  We're fortunate to have him here with us.”

In the U.S. in 2012, about 17 percent of Latino/Hispanic employees are employed in management and professional positions, and Correa is part of a growing number.

It wasn’t enough that he achieved his goals, he is reaching out to the next generation though a FHWA Hispanic Outreach Program that he co-leads.

The program was born out of the fact that there were few Hispanics working in the agency, especially in management, so Correa says, “We decided to do something about it that would help the Latino community and strengthen our agency workforce by adding diversity.”

He says the plan consists of five strategies to reach out to the Latino community, and these include introducing members to the agency and its employment opportunities, helping applicants understand the job application process, and reaching out to new employees through mentoring and offering advice on potential career paths.

Correa goes on to say, “The FHWA has been ranked by its employees in the top 10 Best Federal Agencies to work in the last four years, from among over 300 federal agencies in its category, and was ranked “Best Place” to work by its Latino employees last year.”

Correa sees plenty of opportunity for the Latino community in his agency and other professional areas, and for those who are interested in a professional career, he suggests starting with a goal.

“Aim high,” he says.

Then he recommends talking to a school counselor and says there are organizations the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF.net) and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU.net) that can help students find money for their education.

As importantly, Correa says, “Don’t be afraid of failure,” and he uses himself as example, “This wasn’t the first time I applied [for a division administrator’s] position. I was turned down before.”

He didn’t accept defeat; instead, he learned from his defeat and grew stronger, and Correa says, “Failure can make you stronger.”

And his advice to those now struggling to find their future place in this world: Don’t let your background or any perceived obstacle keep you from achieving your dream…It will change your life.
Deborah Horn

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