Congratulations to the ABNY Young Professionals August Spotlights of the Month – Hersh Parekh, Director of Government and Community Relations – New York at The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Nathan Sutton, Associate Project Manager for the Pennsylvania Station Expansion at Amtrak. They are both working to improve transportation access in and out of New York City!
Politics and government, especially local politics and government were not on my radar for much of my college career. It was an internship program in Washington, DC that opened my eyes to this world. So, when I returned home to Queens after college, I knew that’s what I wanted to pursue. But I had no leads and no idea where or how to get started. It was a chance encounter that led to an internship on a local City Council campaign, and that helped opened doors. From there, it was working hard to prove I belonged, building relationships that were more than just transactional, and leaving my comfort zone, no matter how difficult. (Becoming a lawyer along the way also helped!) I am also very grateful to my parents. A career in politics and government is not a common path for the son of Indian immigrants, but they supported me every step of the way.
I am most proud of the impact I’ve had in my community throughout my career thus far, in ways large and small. There is one common thread that runs through every job I have had, and that is Queens. By working for the Queens Democratic Party, serving as a Democratic District Leader, and being President of the Queens County Young Democrats, I was able to help elect good Democrats to public office. Working for the Governor as his Queens Regional Representative, I ensured state government was accessible and responsive to my neighbors. Working for the Port Authority on historic, transformational projects like the redevelopment of LaGuardia and JFK Airports is significant enough, but in this role, I am also able to connect Queens residents to opportunities in business contracting, employment, and educational programming. It is a wonderful feeling when you can help your community and neighbors, while also enjoying what you do.
– Don’t try to be just okay at everything. Focus on becoming really good at one thing (or a few things).
– It’s okay to ask a question if you don’t understand what someone is talking about, I have seen even the most senior people at an organization do that. The only bad question is the one that was never asked.
– Apologizing when you’re wrong or made a mistake is not a sign of weakness, and it can help de-escalate a challenging situation.
– Stay up to date on current events (especially locally).
– Know who the key players are in local government and politics. And if you don’t know someone, make sure you have a strong network of friends who can help you.
– Be kind and respectful to all staff, everyone from the chief of staff to the intern.
I have lived in New York my entire life, and more specifically I am born-and-bred Queens. The rich diversity of Queens cannot be matched anywhere else – the culture, the food, the languages, the music, the traditions and customs, the religions, and so much more. I am proud to call myself not just a New Yorker, but a resident of the World’s Borough – Queens! (By the way. If you’re from Queens, then you aren’t just from Queens, but rather from a specific neighborhood. I am currently living in Jamaica Hills but grew up in Elmhurst and Rego Park.)
PS. In my humble opinion, a New Yorker can also fall asleep while riding the subway and still wake-up just in time for their stop. Fortunately, I mastered that skill in high school, when I took the subway from Queens to the Bronx every day!
I’ve tried to always keep the end goal in mind no matter what I’m doing. In college, I tried to focus on getting to graduation and the accomplishment that I knew I would feel when I was done. At work now, I try to envision how the satisfaction I will feel when my project is done and I’m able to see the fruits of my labor, and the positive impact it will have on the community.
One of my biggest accomplishments so far is receiving both my Bachelor’s degree (in Civil Engineering) and my Master’s degree (in Transportation Planning and Engineering) from NYU in only 5 years, while also juggling work at Amtrak (first as an intern, then as a full-time employee).
Transportation can be an extremely challenging yet rewarding industry. I think the idea of moving people from point A to point B is a deceptively simple idea, because there’s so much infrastructure and so many systems involved in taking people where they want to go (whether on Amtrak, the subway, etc.). So be open to constantly learning about all of the complexities of wherever you work. There are people who have been doing this for 20, 30, 40 years who are more than happy to help you understand how it works. It’s a big endeavor, but you’re helping to provide an essential service to millions of people in the New York area every day.
When I realized I have a distinct hierarchy in my head of the best and worst subway lines in the city (I will only take the R train if I have to).