Highway to success: Project management and civil engineering alumni work together to build solid team foundations

Jeff Busch and Jane Traffalis
Jeff Busch and Jane Traffalis

It's not often two alumni from the same university but different fields find themselves working together, yet this is exactly the case for Jeff Busch and Jane Traffalis.

Busch is based in Portland, Oregon, where he works as an independent project management consultant, specializing in organizational project management and dispute resolution practices. A veteran in his field, Busch's current position follows 40-plus years of professional experience. Busch does more than help clients learn valuable project management skills, he also teaches them to students. He is currently an adjunct instructor at Portland State University, where he teaches three courses.

Meanwhile, Traffalis is an expert in her field as well. As branch chief for the Western Federal Lands Highway Division, a segment of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Traffalis oversees a broad expanse of federal lands spread across several western states and Alaska. The Western division is responsible for designing and administering construction projects throughout these areas, with particular emphasis on national parks and forests. Improving the lands for the public is a job Traffalis highly enjoys, but just as she strives to enhance these areas, she spends just as much time enhancing her team who makes these efforts possible. 

To help with this, Traffalis often enlists Busch's expertise on either construction projects or enhancement efforts, with their first collaboration dating back almost 20 years. 

"Around that time, I was leading a consulting firm. We provided services for different clients, one of which was the Federal Highway Administration," said Busch. "We provided some scheduling training or claim analysis services, and since then, every few years, Jane and I have gotten together to work on some projects to enhance her organization."

Their most recent collaboration happened just a few months ago. It included implementing some changes to the division's matrix organization, a structure in which the managerial teams share multiple accountability and responsibility.

"This year we wanted to do some refinements in the matrix organization," said Traffalis. "A few snags were identified, and we wanted to help employees through that and fine-tune everyone's roles and responsibilities. I thought a good first step would be to educate our leadership team on matrix organizations and project management, so that's where we brought Jeff in."

Yet working on multiple projects isn't the only thing Busch and Traffalis have in common. Both are originally from Wisconsin and recently discovered that they each attended the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Traffalis graduated in 1987 with a civil engineering degree, and Busch graduated with an online master's degree in project management just this spring. Both think fondly of their shared alma mater and credit the university for helping them with their respective goals.

"My time at Platteville was nothing but good," said Traffalis. "The camaraderie with the other students was amazing and the professors were always there to help. I had an excellent internship setup through UW-Platteville, and then transitioning into the working world they brought in a lot of opportunities. One of them was the Federal Highway Administration, where I interviewed and eventually got the job. So I started with the Federal Lands Highway Program right out of college."

Since then, Traffalis has risen through the ranks to her current position, and now continually seeks to help her employees by removing obstacles in their work efforts, implementing new design initiatives, and nurturing enthusiasm across her division. 

Busch earned his undergraduate degree from UW-Stout. He enrolled in the online project management program for its flexibility to work with his busy schedule as well as for its valued curriculum.

"I’ve always wanted to get my master’s but did not want to give up my flexibility,” Busch said. “A few years ago I decided to commit to this goal and began researching schools. What drew me to Platteville was its curriculum being aligned with the Project Management Institute®. I’ve done a fair amount of international work, and a program having recognition with a global organization such as PMI was really valuable to me.”

Having an already established career as a project management professional, Busch hopes his new degree will add a little more credibility to his work background, as well as lend further understanding to his own graduate students’ experiences at Portland State.

Moving forward, it’s easy to see Busch and Traffalis have built up mutual respect for each other and that their many collaborations will continue. Though each is on a different road to success, their roads frequently intersect as co-workers, and even when their paths diverge again, it’s always as good friends.

“It's because of people like Jane that have created an organization that is really doing something in the world,” said Busch. “The projects are always interesting, but they’re also continually improving and making everything more efficient so that it’s an enjoyable place for people to work as well. That can really make a big difference, and so my hat goes off to Jane, the Federal Lands Highway Program, and all of their work.”