Peter Koonce

When Portland’s Tilikum Crossing bridge officially opened in 2015, it was the first new bridge across the Willamette River in Portland since 1973 and the first to be dedicated to serve multimodal traffic (bikes, light rail trains, streetcar, buses and pedestrians. It also had the fingerprints of Peter Koonce, a City of Portland transportation engineer in charge of designing the traffic signals and bridge layout, all over it. Peter, in turn, would say that Oregon MESA left its share of fingerprints on him. Peter discovered MESA when he enrolled at Benson Polytechnic High School in Portland, encouraged by his dad to pursue engineering. In Oregon MESA he found place to meet other students with similar interests and a teacher — Jean Eames —who pushed them to apply themselves. “MESA really helped to cultivate my excitement around engineering,” Peter says. His time in Oregon MESA exposed him to projects and camaraderie but what he really found valuable was the focus on college — preparing for SAT tests and visiting the campus at Portland State University. “That was really useful,” he says, especially since his parents hadn’t graduated from college. “It helped me understand what it was all about.” After graduating from Benson in 1991, Peter studied civil engineering at Oregon State University and, having learned the value of getting involved from his time in Oregon MESA, networked through the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Through that involvement, he landed a key internship with TriMet, Portland’s transit agency — the beginning of a career spent refining the movement of buses and trains throughout the city. Peter would advise any student to seek out opportunities like Oregon MESA to serve as a bridge to future careers. “Develop your soft skills,” he says. “Collaborate with others. You have to be on the lookout for opportunities to understand how the world works in a way that you’ll never learn from a textbook.”