News

October 12, 2009

From College Hill to Capitol Hill

Rachel Carr ’99 is majority counsel to House of Representatives transportation subcommittee

Helping to draft legislation that would institute a new rail system throughout the country is all in a day’s work for Rachel Carr ’99.

She has been majority counsel to the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials since this spring. She works on national transportation policy issues, including analyzing and drafting federal legislation. The committee’s jurisdiction covers passenger and freight railroads as well as the transportation of hazardous materials by all modes.

“Transportation and infrastructure projects play a critical role in job creation in this economy,” she says. “President Obama has made the development of a high-speed rail system a priority for his administration, so it is a very exciting time to be working in the rail industry on Capitol Hill. Transportation is a dynamic field because it constantly presents new issues that impact safety, security, and the environment.”

The engineering studies (then called A.B. engineering) and government & law graduate’s unique academic background gave her a leg up on Capitol Hill. Carr began her career in Washington as staff assistant for the Subcommittee on Aviation after graduating from Lafayette.

“Having a degree in engineering is particularly helpful in transportation law where many issues can get very technical,” she says. “In working with hazardous materials and railroads, I often deal with engineers and scientists regarding issues raised by new technologies and safety concerns. The engineering studies program gave me a solid background in science to understand these technical issues, which is critical to develop good policy and effective legislation in these areas.”

In between her employment in the nation’s capital, she spent the past three years as a litigation attorney specializing in aviation law in San Francisco. Last year, her volunteer work for the Obama campaign changed the trajectory of her career.

“I traveled to Colorado and was trained in election law to monitor compliance with local and federal laws,” explains Carr, who earned her J.D. at American University in 2005. “Seeing hundreds of people flying in from all over to volunteer made clear to me how much Obama inspired people. My work on the campaign reminded me of how much I missed Washington and working on legislative and policy issues. After the election, I decided to leave the courtroom and move back to D.C. to continue my career working for the federal government. After working in aviation for 10 years in positions in both the public and private sectors, I am very excited to be back on the committee and learning a different mode of transportation.”

In addition to offering a blend of liberal arts and engineering, Lafayette enabled Carr to nurture her passion for swimming and travel.

“Attending Lafayette gave me the opportunity to pursue a rigorous academic program without having to sacrifice participating in athletics or a study abroad program,” she says.

A four-year varsity letter winner on the College’s Division I swim team, she continues to compete in open-water swims and triathlons.

“I chose Lafayette because I wanted a college that would allow me to study engineering and continue to swim competitively,” says Carr, who followed her sister, Eva Carr Petrecca ’97, to the College. “I think triathlons are a natural transition for swimmers who want to do something outside the pool but continue to use their background in swimming. The friends I made on the swim team at Lafayette and the friends I continue to make in the sport keep me in the pool.”

She caught the travel bug while spending her sophomore year in Brussels. The experience made an enormous impact on her education, prompting her to add the government and law major to round out her study of engineering. She also traveled to Honduras during her senior year as a volunteer with Lafayette’s Alternative School Break program.

A member of the American University International Law Review staff, Carr studied international law in Madrid and Santiago, Chile, while earning her law degree. In Madrid, she volunteered for John Kerry’s presidential campaign to encourage Americans abroad to cast their vote.

“I love to travel,” she says. “I always enjoy seeing different parts of the world, and I always enjoy coming home. I am very grateful for the opportunities I had at Lafayette, both inside and outside the classroom. The small classes and ability to work closely with professors, including my adviser, David Veshosky (associate professor of civil and environmental engineering), were instrumental in my success at Lafayette and helped give a solid foundation for law school and my professional career.”

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