In this episode, we speak with Eleanor Flores about her journey from IU Bloomington to her integral role at Amtrak in Washington DC. Eleanor has 10 plus years of experience coordinating large-scale projects from the creation to implementation stages and has diverse program management experience starting from her time as an e-specialist at Indiana University Health to her time managing national and international projects with FTI Consulting. Eleanor takes us on a journey to learn more about her career trajectory and discusses how the resiliency she has cultivated over her career has transformed her into the person she is today. Additionally, Eleanor reminds us about the importance of leading with compassion and optimism.
Eleanor Flores is a Program Manager at Amtrak in Washington DC. She is a solutions-driven project management professional, consistently finding innovative ways to enhance the effectiveness of programs she helps design and run. She specializes in providing project management and senior management communications best practices to her teams.
Currently, Eleanor is working on a 2.5 billion dollar program acquisition of a new train set fleet and specifically working to expand services to reach more clients. She helps with the commercial integration of new equipment. Eleanor is an avid reader, writer, and researcher, which all stem back from her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism degree from IU- Bloomington. Eleanor discusses the invaluable transferable skills such as communication and research skills that stem from her College of Arts and Sciences Journalism degree as well. We hope you find Eleanor’s nuggets of wisdom applicable to your current personal and professional lives as she speaks to giving yourself and others grace. Enjoy the episode!
Participate in Themester 2021 — Resilience
Season 5 of All Careers Considered is produced in conjunction with the College of Arts + Sciences Themester 2021 on Resilience. One way you can participate in Themester is to attend a Themester event.
Daniella: Hey Hoosiers, welcome back to the All Careers Considered podcast, podcast hosted by the Walter Center for Career Achievement, which is the Career Services Center that specifically serve students and alumni in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. We are on a mission to help you achieve career success by supporting you and your pursuit of impactful experiences, Designing Your Life, sharing your story, and building meaningful connections. My name is Daniela Feijoo and I am the graduate intern for the Walter Center for Career Achievement, working with an amazing team of undergraduate students and career development champions. You may have heard that you can do anything with the College of Arts and Sciences degree. And I’m here to show you that really is the case by interviewing alumni to ask them where they are now. Next up is this week’s interview with Eleanor Flores, Program Manager at Amtrak in Washington DC. Eleanor coordinates large-scale projects from the creation to implementation stages and has diverse program management experiences, starting from her time as an E-specialist at Indiana University Health to her time managing national and international projects with FTI Consulting. Eleanor graduated from Indiana University, Bloomington in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism. I had a fantastic time learning more about Eleanor’s career path, resiliency and how her College of Arts and Sciences degree has influenced her life and perspective on the world of work. I really enjoyed our conversation and believe you all will find many nuggets of wisdom and pieces of advice in this conversation. Enjoy the episode!
Daniella: Well, thank you so much for being here with us today on the College of Arts and Sciences’ All Careers Considered podcast, Eleanor. To begin, you had a phenomenal career as a young professional, working at Discovery USA to FTI Consulting and working on so many truly impactful projects and organizations. With that being said, Eleanor, would you like to start us off by telling everyone about your current role as Project Management Professional at Amtrak?
Eleanor: Sure, so thank you for having me today. I am currently a Program Manager at Amtrak. I am out of the Washington D.C. office, which is where the company is headquartered, and I am working on a 2.5-billion-dollar program, which is an acquisition of a new trainset fleet which will replace the existing Acela fleet. So Acela is Amtrack’s premier Northeast quarter service. It’s a high-speed rail network. And right now we have 20 train sets that we run in service and will be replacing those with new equipment, and we also acquired 28 trainsets, so we have even more train sets to expand or service and capture more customer growth. And we’re also doing other engineering infrastructure projects which were required for the new equipment and so those are part of the program as well. So I help from the business side of things, help with the commercial integration of new equipment and preparing Amtrak and the enterprise for the new equipment and my focus is generally on the more commercial side of things as well as program status reporting and things like that.
Daniella: Well, that’s fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing with us about your role and the incredibly diverse ways in which you interact with Amtrak. Could you tell us like kind of backtracking to your time at IU, how did you choose your field of study and what kind of motivated you to pick the industry that you’re currently working in?
Eleanor: Sure. So I was a journalism major when I was at Indiana for my undergrad and my interests came from always enjoying reading and writing. I think I had a healthy dose of always wanting to know everyone’s business, um, which really helped when it came to researching stories and work, and still to this day, I will research anything that my friends require. So, I’ve been in several industries. I started in healthcare at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, and then went into healthcare marketing and then legal consulting and now transportation. So for me, it’s the challenge as opposed to the industry and just where I wanted to see my career evolve. I’ve never really confined myself to certain industry. I’m always open to exploring other industries because I think any company can get value out of someone who has a different background and brings a diverse perspective to their work.
Daniella: Definitely, yes. Could not agree more. And you touched a little bit on your Bachelor of Arts in journalism degree. Can you tell us a little bit about how you have seen that journalism degree, how that has influenced and enhanced your career so far.
Eleanor: Sure, so I feel like having the great foundation I had gave me a very versatile skill-set. Communication skills are one of the most important skills professionals have. And that’s what I got from a degree from College of Arts and Sciences. And other schools may not focus so much on communication and people who have that background and a degree in College of Arts and Sciences are kind of already set up for success because we come to the table with those skills. So I’d say it’s heavily influenced my career. It’s helped me get to where I am and I can’t emphasize enough how important communication is once you get out of school. And even while you’re in school, it’s important. But when you get seats at tables, whether it be interviews or once you’re in your role, communication is the number one skill you’re going to use.
Daniella: Yeah totally. I love that phrase that you used, being set up for success with that liberal arts degree and that emphasis also on communications. I think sometimes we can sort of overlook the importance of that in, in all sorts of career fields. So aside from communications, are there any other transferable skills that you use on a daily basis that you may have learned from your journalism degree?
Eleanor: Sure, I think that in addition to the communication skills, I got a sense of how to be approachable and more discerning and there’s a lot of soft skills you learn. But I also find the design courses that I took within, like the marketing and journalism parts of my coursework, have been really helpful putting together presentations and documentations, depending on the field you go into, a lot of your work could be in putting together a PowerPoint decks or presentations and documentations and being able to present the information in a way that can be easily digestible is very important. And understanding where the eye is looking and the design information that you learn in school has been valuable, invaluable at this point, to the work that I’ve been doing.
Daniella: Yeah that is so neat, I’m glad that you are able to share with us where those design skills and also the soft skills piece. Reporting out the incredible work that you’re doing, whether it’s an individual project or a team sort of environment, I think is such a critical skill set that I’m glad the College of Arts and Sciences is able to provide.
Eleanor: I think at the time you may not be understanding how what you’re learning could translate into different industries, but once you’re in them and you have the opportunities, you can relate back what you’re doing to what you have learned. So it doesn’t always look like a one for one, and it may never. But the skill in looking at what you’re learning and how that can apply in different situations moving forward is where you’ll get the most success.
Daniella: Yes, that sort of like intentional reflection aspect of, of your work-life.
Daniella: Yeah, that’s great, awesome, and moving into our theme of resilience this semester, could you tell us a little bit about what resilience means to you and the work that you do?
Eleanor: Sure. So in most, any role, you’ll have, you can be met with abrupt changes or last minute requests or things that happen you can’t control. It’s being able to meet those things. You know, take a minute, pause, take a beat, maybe five, depending on the circumstances, I often need more time to just assess and not immediately respond, just taking that time and then moving forward and keep delivering. You’re not going to be able to control everything and things will change either with a lot of warning or with none at all. And it’s being able to still come back and do what you’re doing successfully. That is resilience to me. Like you’re not going to just throw in the towel or give up or quit just because something got difficult in that moment.
Daniella: Yes, thank you. That’s a beautiful way to, to phrase that. Are there any specific examples of how you have over your career as a young professional showcased resilience in specifically the current industry that you’re in, in transportation?
Eleanor: I think people around my age have had the interesting opportunity to come out of college, post-when the job market was little sketchy in 2008. And then again with COVID and some of the other global changes that have happened and still been able to hold careers. And to me as a baseline that’s good enough at this point and to find careers and be stable and be able to grow in those roles and then move on when you, want new challenges is another way that you just keep fighting. You don’t necessarily get stuck into a rut. And even if there are things going on that you cannot control for everyone, you’re focused on what you’re doing to ensure that you’re happy and successful and moving forward. And I don’t think you should ever let circumstances impact or drive what you’re doing like you should just be in control of what you can, which is what you’re doing. So if I wanted to go look for a job during COVID, I would have. But you should never let something stop you from doing what you want to be doing or what you think you should be doing.
Daniella: Yes, I love that and I think that you touched on so many wonderful things in regards to wellness and taking care of both personal and professional lives and how those are kind of intersecting at all times. And then also giving yourself grace, looking for challenges and essentially being able to look at your strengths and your values and see how you can utilize those to continue moving forward. I think that speaks a lot to your incredible journey so far.
Eleanor: Thank you. Yeah. Yeah, I think anytime you encounter something, it’s a double-edged sword. You could perhaps give up and look for something else or you could get over that and see where it takes you just because you hit a bump in the road does not mean it’s over or it doesn’t mean that you need to power through and stay there because you’ve overcome one thing. Life is a series of challenges, so you just have to continue to assess whether those challenges at one job in particular are worth getting over or you need to eventually look for other jobs. But in your career you just have to recognize these will come and go and you should always continue and seek to get past them.
Daniella: Yes, you, uh, also touched on this notion of cultivating a growth mindset. In my opinion, you know, being able to take on these challenges with grace and also being able to work with others, whether it’s a mentor, a family member or a partner or somebody in your life to be able to talk through these things and assess, like you said, what are your non-negotiables in this career? What are things that you can look past and, and sort of have a great experience still. And I think those are great for young professionals to hear from someone like yourself, so thank you for sharing that. And I have a quote for you today, that I would love for you to reflect on. It’s a quote from the Dalai Lama that says, “the greater the force of your compassion, the greater your resilience in confronting hardships.” What does that mean to you when you hear up this quote?
Eleanor: I think you need to look at any situation similarly. So if things are going well, you need to carry that ease and levity into the moments that are going to try to take you down. I think it’s important if something happens, you need to give yourself the time to revel. I think it’s very important that you need to feel your emotions as they hatch. Then you have to also take a step and realize you have to lead with compassion. You have to lead with optimism. And this is just a brief moment. So you always have to find the light or be the light, like you can’t just always be in this negative space or moment, but you need to find ways to rise above that and behave the same way you would have whether that issue is there or not.
Daniella: Yeah. So sort of level of, like you said, kind of consistency in your daily life and being able to kind of ground yourself and, yeah, show yourself and other people compassion. I think sometimes we neglect ourselves, so focusing on that first can be really impactful.
Eleanor: Yeah, and it’s important if you recognize in yourself that you have these moments, you have to recognize other people have them as well and may not be showing them. So you always need to lead with compassion when you’re working with others because you may be having a great day, but someone may be having a terrible one. So I always try to remember if I went through something yesterday, that person may be going through that that same thing but today. So I always approach people with that mentality.
Daniella: Yes, that reminds me of the concept of transformational leadership and being able to look at, look at all people that are part of your team, as, you know, equal stakeholders and decision-makers. And although in different organizations and fields, there may be more competitiveness or more of a hierarchy. At the end of the day, we’re all navigating this world. Like you said, challenges come and go. But being able to show that compassion and support to one another is really wonderful, and you, you know, providing that generosity for other people that is returned to you. And I think that’s important to recognize at all times.
Eleanor: Yeah, everyone is your customer. You should treat everyone like your customer, your boss, the people you work with, if you’re giving them something or if you’re working with them, they’re your customer and they’re either going to invest in you and continue to come to you, or they’re going to seek other people to provide them the services so you always want to think of everyone as your customer and treat them as you would if you’re like a one-person business-man or -woman. It’s just you and you need a salary. You need to make money, so you need to treat your customers well.
Daniella: Yes, you have so many great nuggets of wisdom, Eleanor, this is fantastic. Kind of talking about leadership in your career and how you’ve done so for others, and mentored them, or you’ve been mentored, who would you say was your biggest motivator throughout your journey? And if it wasn’t a specific person, what was your biggest motivator?
Eleanor: Sure. So I’ve always been motivated by wanting to support myself and not rely on anyone else. I’m also highly motivated by knowing, I’m personally making an impact. And this goes back to what we were just talking about. I may just make an impact on someone’s day. But if you look at every day you wake up as an all those little interactions, I know I’m making an impact on people and you can find this in a lot of ways. But for me, having those leaders and colleagues who rely on me knowing what I’m doing, it’s contributing in a big way in any of the work I’m doing. I think sometimes depending on the industry you go into, this isn’t as prevalent when I worked in health care right away at Indiana University Health, I could see the difference I was making because I saw patients like, wow, this is, or to find work as fulfilling as being able to go into a hospital and see that they found the service because I published a website page on iuhealth.org. So it’s not always going to be that self-evident. You’re not going to be able to have examples like that every day. But if you seek to find ways in which you’re impacting people, I think that’s a huge motivation and it could be for a lot of people.
Daniella: Yeah, those small points of reflection are key and being able to recognize that, like we were saying, all members of a team are very critical to the mission and being mission driven and focused on that can help us to keep moving forward and stay motivated in our work. So thank you. What advice would you give to current IU students as they’re balancing school and the COVID global pandemic and looking ahead to their futures.
Eleanor: Well, I think without even knowing them, good job, everyone is doing the best job that they can. And I have no doubt the students at IU are not any different. We’re all just doing our best. Um, I would say now more than ever, it’s important not to shy away from non-verbal presence. What you’re doing now when you sit in a room full of people or stand with a group in a conversation when you aren’t speaking. We’ve had the ability to kind of hide out and zone out behind screens for the better part of almost two years now. So it’s important, we don’t forget how to communicate in person. And also be present. So having a positive presence without saying anything goes a really long way. People will remember if you’re in the room, even if you don’t say anything, if you’re contributing positively to the atmosphere.
Daniella: Yes, I love that, that interconnectedness and sort of building community at, at all sorts of junctions in our lives is really critical to a sense of wellness and it comes back to that always.
Eleanor: And I do, and I do see, I’ve loved working from home and I see the benefit of being able to do that. But I also see when people say, you know, we gotta get back classrooms, we have to get back into work. Like why that is. I I know why that is and I understand the benefits of that. And I do think most people will want to get back in to person. So it’s remembering those, again, soft skills of how do I behave when I’m in front of people. And I’m not always going to be looking at my phone or looking at my watch. Or staring off, like you need to be present and engaged when you’re with other people. And I think that will perhaps be, an unpracticed skill once you’re back in the, quote, real new world.
Daniella: Yes, I couldn’t agree more. Showing up for people and giving your time is truly a gift. And I think we’re slowly transitioning into figuring out what those moments of um, gratitude look like, and showing up for one another. So yeah, that’s a wonderful reflection.
Eleanor: Yep. And I think also remembering after you’re doing this, you’re going to be tired because that is the new normal. And once you have to start getting back out there, you will be tired. So take the time that you need mentally as well. And once you, once you’re back in the situations.
Daniella: Yes, 1000%. So thinking about young professionals as they’re navigating an internship or job search, impostor syndrome is something that a lot of young people experience. What advice would you give students as they are navigating this?
Eleanor: I mean, I would like to say that imposture syndrome is something that goes away, but I still know a partner in a global law firm who could still feel this way. So the most important thing I tell myself is you’re there for a reason. Someone has seen something in you worth investing in. And you should make sure they see a return on that investment. You should always believe that you’re worth investing in. And it’s not like you just walked in off the street and got a seat at the table and you were asked to be there. So provide value. You don’t need to say something in order to provide value in every instance, but just always ensure that people are seeing a return on their investment in you being a part of these conversations. And unfortunately, I don’t have a cure for imposter syndrome aside from the fact that you just need to continually have faith in yourself.
Daniella: Yes, That’s great advice for young people and for anyone experiencing impostor syndrome. I think in this topic of resilience, it’s most important to be able to wake up every day and think of it as a new, fresh start. Of course, building on things that you’ve already developed and been able to grow whether that is individually or as a team. But being able to see that you are making an impact and that looks like something different for everybody.
Eleanor: That’s right. And some days it will result in a congratulations email or a thank you or more praise than you were expecting. And some days you’ll do even better and get none. So you just have to recognize that not every instance where you’re succeeding in public or in front of people, or at your job, is going to garner that the back. So you have to be able to give it to yourself and not rest on other people going out of their way to give you that feedback.
Daniella: Yes. Thank you. That’s wonderful. Eleanor, what would you say are the biggest changes that you’ve seen in yourself from when you were an undergraduate at IU Bloomington?
Eleanor: I mean, I think the biggest change is my bedtime. But aside from that, I’m a lot more tailored than I was when I was an undergrad. And what I mean by that is I know how to better measure myself and how I respond to people and how I show up. And sometimes I don’t, you know, and that’s okay. Sometimes I just immediately got the handle when I hear something or when I react somewhere and I don’t reel myself in. But more often than not, I spend time ensuring that how I am showing up is the best version of myself every time. So I think that what I’m going to say, what is my face doing right now? How will this message being perceived, all of that I think of who I’m talking to and what is my relationship with that person. And I go through a lot more of a checklist before or during conversation than I did when I was younger. And I think that’s personal growth that hopefully a lot of people see as they get older. So I think that’s one way, even in my career I’ve seen growth are really the past less than five years of just continually checking myself and how I’m showing up in what people may be perceiving me as in that moment.
Daniella: Yeah, That’s phenomenal. Thank you so much.
Eleanor: Yes. And I definitely did not care about that as an undergrad.
Daniella: There is so much to balance when you’re in school and also in a full-time role, of course. And I just think that there’s, there’s a lot of opportunities to grow and learn as you’re kind of transitioning from one job to another because you have these reflective points and people looking up to you essentially too, and that helps you to kind of stay accountable to yourself.
Eleanor: Yeah, and it helps you obviously get feedback when you’re in a career you have leadership will provide you regular feedback and that’s helpful as well. And it’s just one of those areas where I’ve always seeked to grow because I do think it is a skill of leaders and leaders that I’ve worked with and mentors that I have had. And it’s just something that I’m always continually seeking to improve.
Daniella: That’s great. Would you be able to reflect on your biggest teaching moment in your career thus far?
Eleanor: I think I’ve stressed the, I felt like I needed assistance in tailoring myself a lot. So the biggest teaching moment, I mean, I think it’s that you’re never the teacher. No matter if you become a subject matter expert on something or become the go-to person, which I’ve been on some stuff. There are people with more experience or have a different perspective who can teach you something. I’m most proud of where I am today, but I also and I think I’m probably the continuing to become the best version, but I’m going to need teaching no matter what. And recognizing that I think is just a moment I continue to have in and of itself because I do have times where I’m like, well, why would I ask that person. Ask the person because they may have other opinions or other advice that and something you haven’t experienced yet. So just always know that you’re always a student. Unfortunately, even after you graduate.
Daniella: That is really powerful. I think that will be a guiding principle for many people. And you touched on this a little bit, Eleanor. What are you most proud of in your career thus far?
Eleanor: Aside from learning that I always need to be taking direction and being a student, I think I’m most proud of taking the initiative to get a postgraduate certification. So what you’re doing in postgraduate school is fantastic. And I think if people want to go into graduate school, they certainly should. But I was able to explore opportunities through getting a project management certification that I would not have previously been eligible for those opportunities if I hadn’t gotten a certification that kind of gave me what a communications degree gave me, which is a universal skill that was recognized by any industry. So I would not be where I was today if I didn’t have just those fantastic foundational skills of both communications and project management. If I didn’t just take the initiative to do more in my extra time when I was a little bit younger.
Daniella: Yeah, that’s fantastic how those are interwoven the communications and the project management.
Eleanor: Yeah, it’s a field, I don’t think Indiana has, it’s not, it’s becoming a more widely undergraduate offering, I think, but project management itself is, I think, fairly young in terms of the offerings on university campuses. So I had no idea that’s where I would be, but here I am. So I guess I’m also proud of the fact that I just went with it.
Daniella: That’s so great. I’m so excited for you. And what would you say is your favorite part of your job currently?
Eleanor: I think my favorite part of the job is I’m able to work with so many different groups and departments within Amtrak that I would never work with in any other role. I work a lot with mechanical leaders and engineering and infrastructure people, electrical engineers as well as like marketing professionals and communications leaders and the executive leadership. There isn’t one group where I’m not working with. That diversity within my day is exciting. It also gives me an opportunity to learn a lot more. I get exposure to IT work I wouldn’t be working with otherwise. And just get a breadth of knowledge and a bunch of different departments and get to meet a lot of different people and that’s probably the best part right now.
Daniella: Yeah, that sounds fabulous. I’m so glad that you’re enjoying your position and making a really big impact as well.
Eleanor: Thank you.
Daniella: Yeah. Of course. And on to some more fun questions. What would you say is your favorite thing to do or your favorite memory on campus?
Eleanor: There’s a lot, but I would say my girlfriends and I always did what we would call car parties. So we would listen to very loud music and drive around campus and do laps and pick people up from classes, get polar pods from Circle K. So that was a big activity depending on who needed to be picked up from class when; so that was really fun for me. I love campus. So us driving around it is just the ultimate activity for me.
Daniella: That’s so cool. It is such a gorgeous campus.
Eleanor: Yeah, it’s fantastic. I have a route if anyone needs one.
Daniella: We will be sure to let them know. Wonderful. Do you have a favorite class that you recall or a professor?
Eleanor: I mean, I did a class in the journalism school. I don’t know if they still have it, but it was called “In the Footsteps of Ernie Pyle”. And it was a course about the journalism school at the time was named after Ernie Pyle and he was a World War II reporter. And as part of the class, we spent spring break in London and in France visiting the different World War II memorials and museums and things. There’s a fantastic class both in getting to learn that rich history and the contributions of one man and also getting into travel, so it was kind of the best of both worlds, and I met a lot of great people in that class.
Daniella: Oh, that’s wonderful. What a cool immersive experience too.
Eleanor: Yeah, I was I don’t know if they still do that. There were a couple other classes. I think like two or maybe two others. One I think would go to Chile. So yeah, there’s a couple of immersive classes that the journalism school offered, and I’m very appreciative of the one I went on.
Daniella: Wonderful Thank you so much for sharing those tidbits of your time at IU. To wrap us up, thank you so much for being here. It was so fantastic to hear about all your incredible experiences and amazing products you’re working on now at Amtrak. Thank you for your time. And if students have any questions or want to keep up with the amazing ways you’re changing the world, how can they go about doing so?
Eleanor: I would recommend anyone who wants to reach out, you can find me on LinkedIn under Eleanor Flores. I would encourage any student if you meet alumni or if you’re interested in getting into a career, just reach out to them and try to network. People love to talk about themselves. It’s one of the easiest things we as people can do. And it is beneficial to your career to meet as many people as you can. Just always be professional about it and follow through. Don’t reach out to people, they respond, don’t not respond back to them, but don’t be afraid to just reach out to people as you get to know them or as you meet them casually. It’s helpful to always network and grow and grow your network by meeting other people. I know it’s cliche and when I was an undergrad, I was like why am I talking to old people? But it is important.
Daniella: Yes, thank you for those helpful tidbits too on best practices for reaching out to alumni. And you can also find Eleanor on the Walter Center Success Network. I would highly recommend that as well as LinkedIn. And yes, thank you so much for being here. We’re so excited to have you.
Eleanor: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed it.