American infrastructure has faced numerous challenges in the past several decades — age, the elements and gridlock in government. Now it faces another: the retirement of thousands of seasoned leaders in the coming years. Fortunately, rising stars like Lisbeth Concho M.S. ’09 Ph.D. ’13 are poised to step in and help bring the field forward.
Transit asset management — the systematic, strategic process of procuring, operating, maintaining and replacing transit assets to manage performance and costs — wasn’t always Concho’s career goal; she came to Stevens in 2007 after completing an internship in oil and gas with WilPro Energy Services in her native Venezuela.
“I was interested in looking at things from an enterprise, or systems, perspective,” Concho says. “A friend of mine was at Stevens and talked about their systems engineering program. After looking at the website, its location and its programs, I thought it was definitely the right place for me in multiple ways.”
During her time at Stevens, Concho worked with the Maritime Security Center under former Stevens faculty member Tom Wakeman. Her summer program focused on evaluating the criticality of bridges, tunnels and airports managed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey along the New York Harbor and the impact that a terrorist attack on any of these facilities would have on the maritime supply chain, transportation and population.
The experience piqued her interest in the management of transit and transportation assets in the area and informed her doctoral research under the guidance of Jose Ramirez-Marquez, associate professor and division director of enterprise science and engineering. Concho’s work focused on creating optimization models using genetic algorithm techniques to speed the process of shipping container inspections and passenger screening, increasing reliability and reducing financial and time costs.
After Stevens, she joined the MTA as a systems engineer, where she saw firsthand the challenges the agency faced in maintaining the vast transportation network – particularly in making strategic decisions about how to prioritize investments for new assets and repairing existing infrastructure.
“Identifying where all the funding needs to be allocated and deciding where it will actually be spent is a challenging decision-making process that translates into better service for the customer,” she says.
Concho left the MTA in 2015 to become an asset management consultant, providing systems engineering, business analysis and project management support to several transit agencies across the country.
“One of the most common challenges across these agencies is managing information about their assets – things as simple as when a piece of equipment was last maintained. They often lack readily available or historical data to use to improve the analysis they need to forecast when it is best to maintain or replace equipment before it falls into disrepair,” she says.
By taking a systems approach, she adds, these agencies can better identify their needs and improve how decisions are made in both the short and long term. Her background in operations research, coupled with the skills she gained at Stevens, provided the foundation for Concho to build a decision-support tool she uses to help agencies make that kind of analysis.
Outside the office, Concho also assumed a greater leadership role in the field. In 2017, she founded the first U.S. chapter of the Institute of Asset Management’s (IAM) NxtGen group, a resource open to students, young professionals and experienced workers transitioning to the asset management profession. Before the pandemic, Concho organized a series of activities for the group in and around New York City ranging from networking events to presentations from leaders in the field. Although she has passed the NxtGen baton to new leaders, she remains involved as a volunteer for IAM.
“I want to bring awareness about asset management to people who are new to the field and facilitate knowledge across different industries,” she says.