Sebnem Tugce Pala is a public policy professional with deep experience in the field of sustainable transportation. She has worked as the Energy Grant Strategy Director for Miami’s first unicorn startup, REEF Technology and led AmpUp’s Public Policy and Government Affairs team. Sebnem attended the Professional Diploma Program in Business Administration and Project Management at UC Berkeley and received her MA in Development Studies at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva (IHEID) as well as an MA in International Political Economy at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom.
We sat down with Sebnem to learn more about her career, interests and plans for the Mentorship Program.
Q: How did you become involved in the autonomous driving industry?
While studying at UC Berkeley, I conducted policy research on autonomous drones and autonomous vehicles at the Transportation Sustainability Research Center. My policy research on autonomous vehicles was an eye-opening experience, and I became more involved in the autonomous driving industry. I believe that sustainability in transportation starts with autonomous vehicles; this pandemic has been a game changer for autonomous vehicles in every aspect and has highlighted the significance of the deployment of this technology.
Q: When did you join WIA? Why did you decide to join?
I joined WIA in 2019. I was attending WIA events regularly before the pandemic. Women in Autonomy is a great platform for female leaders where they can educate, inspire and guide each other. Thus, I decided to join and am so happy to be part of the community.
Q: How has mentorship influenced your career?
I wholeheartedly believe that mentorship is a long journey. As for both parties (mentees and mentors), mentorship is an amazing learning experience. That being said, I learned more about myself through the WIA mentorship program. I enhanced my active listening skills and I better understood the importance of giving and receiving feedback, as well as asking the right questions and expressing appreciation and gratitude. Without a doubt, this has been a huge contribution to my career.
Q: Why did you decide to participate in the WIA Mentorship Program?
Thanks to the WIA events before the pandemic, I knew that the organization is full of female leaders and I have always enjoyed meeting female executives, policy makers, engineers and academics who are interested in autonomy and technology. Once WIA launched their Mentorship Program, I signed up for it right away. This Mentorship Program has given me the opportunity to meet inspiring female leaders and to discuss the common challenges that we are facing in this challenging industry and grow together.
Q: What inspired you to take on the role of Mentorship Program Director?
Just before the end of the previous term, we (mentees and mentors) were invited to a happy hour event where we had the chance to provide feedback and learn more about the experiences of other mentees/mentors and the peer mentoring groups. I previously participated in other mentorship programs so I had some suggestions for developing WIA’s program further. They really appreciated my feedback and offered me the role of Mentorship Program Director. As I am passionate about autonomy and women's leadership, I decided to take on this role and see the impact of my suggestions directly.
Q: What are your goals for the program?
First and foremost, I would like this program to be an enjoyable experience for everyone. I aim to create our own Mentorship Guidebook, Checklist and Agreement Template. I plan to have more regular check-ins with our mentors/mentees and peer mentoring groups and share suggestions for books, TED Talks and articles. More importantly, I hope to offer my guidance, feedback, and make sure that everything is running smoothly and is in line with WIA’s mission.
Q: What are you most looking forward to in this new role?
I would love to empower female leadership in this new role. I have previously worked as the Program Director for other mentorship programs, however, this program specifically enables women to grow their careers and network, sharing invaluable experiences with each other. Despite being the Program Director, I am still part of a peer mentoring group. I am most looking forward to inspiring my fellow participants and to continue to be inspired by them.