As a student at Waterbury’s Kennedy High School, Alicia Leite worked hard, took a full load of Advanced Placement (AP) classes, and found inspiration from the 1995 film “An American President” when thinking about her future.
“I knew I wanted to study political science after seeing the movie,” Leite said. “Annette Benning was an environmental lobbyist, and between my AP Poly Sci class and the film, I wanted to be a lobbyist like Annette Benning’s character.”
When she attended a Western Connecticut State University campus tour, Leite loved the campus and its vibe. She took advantage of a FAFSA information session at her school, applied for and received Pell grants, and acquired some need-based local scholarships available in her community. Leite was able to enroll with a semester’s worth of credits on the books thanks to her AP classes, and moved to campus with a high school classmate who also enrolled. They roomed together at Newbury Hall their freshman year.
Once on campus, Leite was amazed. “My anthropology and social sciences classes at WCSU opened my eyes to things I had never experienced or learned growing up,” she said. “Professors like Dr. Stephen Ward, Dr. Averell Manes and Dr. Rob Whittemore expanded my world view significantly. I was the first person in my immediate family to attempt to obtain a four-year degree and going to college literally was life-changing for me.”
By the time she was a WCSU senior, Leite was an Honors Student and lived in Honors housing on the Westside campus. When she graduated in 2005, the world seemed to be full of mostly sales jobs. After selling insurance for a while, Leite transitioned to academia sales — working in admissions and recruiting at a for-profit college.
While pursuing a master’s degree in Public Administration at the University of New Haven, Leite followed the advice of one of her professors and took an unpaid internship at the South Central Regional Council of Governments. There, she was introduced to the Connecticut Chapter of the Women in Transportation Seminar (WTS). Through networking at WTS events, Leite obtained a project coordinator job with Prime Engineering Group, which conducts bridge inspections in Connecticut. The job required her to pull bridge inspection files at the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) and it was during one of these visits that Leite received a call informing her of a job offer from a CTDOT opening for which she had previously applied.
“I absolutely fell in love with public transportation,” Leite said. Now, after nearly nine years at CTDOT, Leite has been named Supervising Planner, Customer Experience Unit for the Bureau of Public Transportation, and was featured this summer in a “40 Under 40” article in Mass Transit Magazine.
During her tenure at CTDOT, Leite helped launch CTfastrak, the state’s first bus rapid transit system, and participated in activities ranging from service planning, station maintenance, safety and security planning, fare collection, transit technology procurement, to customer/community outreach. Leite also got to put her political science knowledge to use in 2019 when she served as CTDOT’s staff legislative liaison, interacting with state legislators to advocate for CTDOT’s needs and legislative proposals. According to the Mass Transit Magazine article, “Leite is credited with successfully leading CTDOT’s robust legislative package through the state House and Senate for passage in 2019.”
In addition to her “40 Under 40” recognition, Leite also was awarded the WTS Connecticut Member of the Year Award in 2018 and received awards from CTDOT for Teamwork (2015) and Customer Service (2018).
Leite now can be found traversing the state to oversee the CTDOT Customer Experience Action Plan, conducting outreach to customers and stakeholders about their transit experiences. Her travels brought her back to Danbury a few months ago.
“Looking back, attending WCSU was such a great experience,” Leite said. “For the price, the high quality of the education I got was amazing,” “I didn’t become Annette Benning, but I’m very happy with the outcome.”