Spotlight on Alumnae: Kim Chan ’98 on the Road to Civil Engineering

Portrait of Scripps College alumna Kim Chan '98 in her role with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Before Kim Chan ’98 arrived to study at Scripps College, she was living in a two-bedroom house with her parents and three siblings near California State University, Los Angeles. A refugee from Vietnam, Chan was 18, the eldest child, and the first in her family to attend college.

“I was spoiled!” Chan says with a smile. “The campus was beautiful. There was a lot that attracted me to it.”

Chan enrolled into the 3-2 Engineering Program at Scripps, in which she spent three years at Scripps and two years at Cornell University in New York, completing one bachelor’s degree at Scripps and a second bachelor’s degree at Cornell’s engineering school. She credits her choice of major partly to the inspiration of her uncle, who worked as a civil engineer in Hong Kong on the city’s airport runway and subway. The program also gave her the time to study abroad in Taiwan and learn more about her Chinese background, which, she notes, “is something most engineering programs will not allow time for.”

While at Scripps, Chan occasionally took the Metrolink to get from Claremont back home to LA to visit her family. And to this day, transportation has maintained a front seat in her life.

“My parents didn’t drive very far; they had a car, but transportation was an issue for them. They didn’t speak English and they were scared to go far,” Chan says. “There was no GPS back then and they could get lost.” So, when she decided to embark on a career in civil engineering, she knew transportation was where she wanted to be: “For me, civil engineering was the way to go because it really related to people. I wanted to help society by building infrastructure.”

When Chan moved back to the Los Angeles area from the East Coast, she worked at Metrolink for nearly 10 years and is now a senior director of construction management at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Since 2017, she has been working to build Section 2 of the Purple (D) Line subway extension from Koreatown to the University of California, Los Angeles.

Looking back on her time at Scripps, Chan says it’s important to mention the impact a liberal arts education has had in her life. “I struggled with English and its context because it wasn’t my first language and not my home culture. I had good grades in high school, but I still felt deficient in the arts,” Chan says. “I liked that I could get that education and learn about philosophy, human issues, and other courses that helped me evolve on a personal level and study engineering as well.”