An eclectic career that has ranged from truck driver to sign language translator to animal shelter benefactor took on another change last week when Holly Chu, a five-year veteran civil engineer with the Town of Vienna assumed the role of director of the town's Public Works Department.
With the promotion, Chu, 40, who holds a master's degree in civil engineering, became one of just a handful of female public works directors in the state. Chu had served as acting director since former director Douglas King retired last year. She was selected by Town Manager John Schoeberlein.
"I'm very happy with our decision and that she has such a good background," said Mayor M. Jane Seeman. "We've never had someone before with the kind of education ... that she has and we feel that it will add so much value to the town as our director of public works."
For 24-year town employee Sandy Jester, the decision to move a long-term town employee to the position makes for a much smoother transition between department heads.
"She's already been in the office, on the job, so she knows what it's like to work here and knows all of us really well," said Jester, a public works assistant. "It's always good to have someone from the inside hired, so there's a little change, but it doesn't take too long to get used to it."
CHU HAS A RESUME and list of hobbies and skills that she brings to the department that add to the standard fare for public works directors, Jester said.
Although she was born and raised in a Washington, D.C. Maryland-area suburb, she studied civil engineering, worked and lived in Hawaii, her civil engineer father's home state, for more than 10 years. While in the tropical state she became certified as a sign language translator, learned to drive a 18-wheel semi tractor trailer and went diving and surfing off the coasts of the islands on a regular basis.
She got her opportunity to learn about managing as the foreman for longshoremen in Hawaii, she said.
It was all these experiences that she said helped prepare her in different ways for her current role to direct a town's Public Works Department.
"Being a truck driver and knowing mechanics has really helped me see things from a lot of different perspectives and given me that kind of diversity in experiences," Chu said.
BUT ALL OF CHU'S experience hasn't been only in the form of engineering. She is also an artist and animal-lover who creates graphic designs of pets that she sells on the Internet to raise money for animal shelters.
Her love for animals — she identifies having a soft spot for dogs and fish — has also led her to push for greater education campaigns focusing on eliminating pollution among town residents and business owners, she said. Alongside designing the town's Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program, she has personally created a series of graphics of sea life to raise pollution awareness.
"Because of my history and love for diving and living in Hawaii, [pollution prevention] is something that I kind of naturally gravitated to," Chu said. "I'm a big believer in my thinking that every dollar that is spent on education is at least twice as important as every dollar spent on clean ups and maintenance."
Her passion for the job and her commitment to the community in the form of these projects have been apparent since she first came on board with Vienna, Seeman added.
"She's always out among the residents, going to the Vienna Dog Park ... she doesn't just do her job and go home, she's out there with the residents," she said. "She spends a lot of time working with the community and really listening to what peoples' problems are."
HER FIRST ORDER of business aside from getting settled into the position as director will be to address the town's basic drainage maintenance needs and develop plans for making improvements to town resources, she said.
Some of these measures will include taking a look at modern traffic control measures as well as working with the state to try and determine new ways to manage traffic through town, she said.
"I think I definitely need some time to get used to the new position, but I'm very confident that I know how to operate things," Chu said. "It's been a very close, tight-knit organization over here and I've been pretty involved with how things have been run over the years."