Mae Whiteside works to develop and maintain relationships with clients for her firm, CKL Engineers, LLC. Her business is a civil engineering and construction management firm that provides professional engineering services in transportation and energy markets in Atlanta and Chicago.
Mae also has a strong background in politics, as she is a former presidential campaign fellow and currently serves as a member of the Nominating Committee for the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. Walker’s Legacy was excited to learn more about Mae’s story and decided to ask her a few questions!
Why do you do what you do and why is your work important?
“Innately, as a black civil engineer, my work is important in communities of color. My work directly affects daily activities such as access to highways, clean water, transit, parks and recreation. My design decisions incorporate long standing needs of our community.”
What are you most passionate about?
“Civic engagement and civil engineering go hand in hand. The work itself lends to community engagement, participation and creative thought. Projects require the involvement of stakeholders who have a weigh-in on proposed projects that affect how they commute, work and play.”
“I created the Illinois Black Campaign Academy to engage the African American community being hired for key roles in campaigns across the state of Illinois. I may be able to grow it nationwide, as campaigns seemingly miss the mark on how to engage black staffers which in turn, relays expectations of the candidates on key issues.”
That’s what it’s all about. That’s how we move forward within our community—by allowing opportunities to be created by and for minorities so that we can all succeed together! Mae is doing a great job by working towards the advancement of her fellow women (and men) of color in fields where we are underrepresented.
Tell us about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
“The US 41 Project provided a much needed transportation corridor on the south east side of Chicago. The site previously was closed to the public for over 10 years with the exodus of US Steel site. The local drive now provides for industry, retail and home construction due to its proximity to the Lake Michigan, its slip and other natural features in the area, making it conducive to growth.“
Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in, and what you’re committed to in your work and life?
“I have two greats: My mother, Zenobia Whiteside, a civil rights activist in the 1970s-1980s and Lou Palmer of Chicago, a community reporter and civil rights activist. Lou created a radio show on WVON 1390AM called Lou’s Notebook. I learned of his support of the election of Mayor Harold Washington which deeply influenced my civic engagement (along with my mother of course). During the time of Mayor Harold Washington, civic engagement was at an all time high and my mother was a civil rights protester. So that combination assisted in my current civic endeavors.”
Wow, those are both two great people to be inspired by! What an honor to be raised and guided by those who were dedicated to making a difference in the lives of those who needed fighting for. Mentors are a key component of success.
In closing, we wanted to know Mae’s hopes for the future of women of color in the business industry within the next five years. Here’s Mae’s prediction and goal:
“Women of color from the business community must get vocal about barriers of growth, barriers to access to capital and access to political networks. We must inform, engage and educate the broader business community with our economic agenda. Otherwise, folks will assume we are doing great with the scraps we get.”
Amen to that. Let Mae’s words inspire you to keep going, improving, and striving to be the best version of yourself. The success story of one woman is motivation for another — not competition!