September 2, 2013

2013 40 Under Forty: Jessica Strunkin

Strunkin

TITLE: Deputy Director, 495/MetroWest Partnership

COMPANY LOCATION: Westborough

RESIDENCE: Sterling

FAVORITE MOVIE: "Bottle Rocket," the directorial debut for Wes Anderson

FAVORITE BOOK: "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak

Career highlights: I worked on a project in my previous role at the North Central Mass. Chamber of Commerce, dubbed Ski the T for Free! The idea was to draw Boston residents to Wachusett Mountain via the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line; for the first year, riders were reimbursed their train fare via their lift ticket. It was a great partnership which benefited a local business while encouraging ridership. In my current role, I was asked to serve on the MassDOT Transportation Advisory Committee, tasked with building a unified and more efficient MassDOT. It was gratifying to be asked for my feedback.

Community involvement: I recently had the pleasure of becoming a mentor at the Dollar $cholar Conference, one of the Women's Initiative programs through the United Way of Central Massachusetts. I spent the day working with eighth grade girls, teaching them financial literacy through games, networking and conversation. Additionally, I participate in the annual UMass Medicine Cancer Walk with my husband's company's team.

Biggest success: For more than eight years, I have been a member of the Fitchburg Line Working Group, tasked with improving the service, speed and reliability of the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line. This $277-million investment will ultimately result in increased reliability, as well as faster and more extended service.

Biggest challenge: When I arrived at the Partnership, I was quickly informed that I would be in charge of water resources. I quickly came to the realization that transportation garners a lot more attention from the public than water resources due to its inherent visibility. My biggest challenge is getting the importance of water resources and the dire straits of Massachusetts' aging water infrastructure — as well as their connection to economic development — across to the public and policy makers. Even with the release of a comprehensive report from the state's Water Infrastructure Finance Commission, noting a $20 billion to $40 billion funding gap over the next 20 years, most of the public is unaware and the call to action remains relatively quiet.

Mentors: My mother, Barbara Foster, has taught me a strong work ethic, persistence, a positive attitude, not to mention a few guiding phrases, such as, "Never go empty handed." She is a true inspiration.

Hidden talents: According to my husband and son, I am "The Finder." Whenever anything is lost in our house, no one even bothers to look for the item since they have discovered my talent for finding things. I have become so skilled at finding that sometimes I don't even need to look.

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