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Meet Faeghah Amirarfaei: Profile of a TAC Volunteer

Thursday, July 9, 2020

This article is part of a series profiling some of TAC’s volunteers. Learn more about TAC’s volunteer structure, the role of volunteers and the benefits of volunteering.

Introducing Faeghah Amirarfaei; TAC volunteer and Transportation Modeling Advisor at L’Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM). We interviewed Faeghah about her experience as a TAC volunteer and working in the transportation sector.  

TAC: Tell us about yourself!

FA: I was born and raised in a relatively small city in the north-west of Iran, after the country had undergone a recent revolution and war with its neighbour, Iraq: a war that lasted eight years. I still have some vague memories from those days. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for my parents, whom I love and am deeply grateful to, to raise their kids under those difficult circumstances. I have a sister, a year older than me, with whom I have grown up and who has filled my whole life with sympathy, love and joy.

I was always a good student at elementary school and later at high school. Even though my parents never forced me to do schoolwork, I did it willingly, and I believe that is what led me later to be accepted at one of the best universities in Iran, Tehran Polytechnic. My bachelor’s degree was in Electrical Engineering, and since I was among the top three students in the class, I was admitted to the master’s program in the same faculty. This was a major accomplishment for me. At about the same time, I started working in an electric-power research institute in Tehran as a systems engineer. Pursuing my master’s, I got to know my future husband, the love of my life, whom I am so thankful to have in my life.

Since moving to Canada, I have made significant efforts to become engaged in my community and have contributed in several ways.

  • For two years, I mentored secondary school students in the Robotique FIRST Québec competition.  
  • Under a program of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, I have mentored several new immigrants to facilitate their integration in the workforce. 
  • I was involved in the Opération retour à l’école program, which aims to educate young people about the importance of education and encourage them to persevere in their studies to secure a better future. 
  • I am currently a member of the Active Mobility Committee of the borough of Verdun, which aims to improve the active transportation infrastructure in the neighborhood.  

TAC: What led you to a career in the transportation sector?

FA: As a control system engineer, I knew that I would have a variety of options as my future career. I still remember one of my university professors telling us that control system engineering is like an adjustable wrench; all you need is to know your system, then you will adapt your knowledge to respond to that specific system’s requirements. Studying in this domain has let me have a deep understanding of systems, mathematical modeling, and simulations, which enables me to remain eager to discover new and evolving systems.

When I first moved to Canada, I worked for a research and development company, Globvision, where I contributed to the development of a fault diagnosis system of a satellite; I designed a diagnosis system for a solar cell. I did this while completing my master's in electrical and computer engineering at Concordia University. Later I moved to the control system department at Pratt and Whitney Canada as a control software engineer. It was valuable experience, as I got the chance to conduct the system identification and modeling of a jet engine, performing tests on a real engine in the test cell.

After a couple of years, I decided to switch to the transportation industry, and soon I got an offer from Bombardier transport. As a senior engineer, I worked on the software design and integration of several projects, including Toronto Go-Transit and San Francisco BART. I also conducted the data analysis of energy efficiency management system for the New York subway system. About two years ago, I decided to make a shift to the other side of the transportation industry, which was also a turn from the private to the public sector. I moved to my current position at L’Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM)  - Montreal’s regional transportation authority - as a Transportation Modeling Advisor in the Transportation and Mobility Planning Department. This has enabled me to apply my experience and knowledge in a domain that has a more human touch and community involvement.

TAC: What professional achievement are you most proud of?  

FA: I am so happy with my whole journey as it has never been straight; however, whenever I have faced a challenge, I have figured out a way to overcome it. One of the recent achievements that I am proud of is my soon-be-finished degree in bilingual professional communication from McGill University. 

Certainly, conceiving the BART HVAC control system in NRCC (National Research Council of Canada), Ottawa, was a unique professional experience that I am particularly proud of. I had the pleasure of designing and adjusting the parameters of the control system in real-time in the test facility, along with other team members and the client.

TAC: Tell us about your history as a TAC volunteer. 

FA: At ARTM, we collaborate with several associations and organizations; I have been ARTM’s representative with TAC since 2018. It has given me valuable experience of managing projects in a variety of subject areas and therefore widening my view in the transportation domain. I’ve also had the chance to get to know the great community of TAC members and to work with them on some volunteer projects. Moreover, my involvement in TAC has been through reviewing papers of TAC conference sessions.

TAC: How has volunteering with TAC helped you?

FA: TAC has introduced a new aspect to my work. Being involved in TAC projects helps me to get out of my direct domain of work, which might sometimes be quite challenging at the beginning of the project. However, as the project advances, it gets me to deepen my knowledge in that subject area. This is what I admire most about my involvement in TAC.  

I also value being part of a community of transportation professionals. It provides an excellent platform for knowledge sharing and brings responsibility as a member, which in turn motivates me more toward reaching my career goals.

TAC: Tell us about a challenge that you would like to help solve. 

FA: As a professional engineer who has worked in several industries and knows different systems and processes, I would like to contribute to the integration of technologies from other industries and domains in transportation, for example, the application of the algorithms from control system theory or data science in transportation. This contribution could also be through mentoring the next generation of engineers and professionals to meet the emerging opportunities and the challenges.

TAC: What advice would you give someone just starting out in the transportation sector?

FA: I would suggest seeking mentors that could support a better understanding of the company, and the industry. One of the best approaches to achieve this goal could be to ask the advice of experienced people in the company. In my career, great professionals have helped me to believe in myself and get out of my comfort zone. With that mindset, I believe the best is yet to come.