Rough roads ahead? Not for Crystal Shum

Published in the Lake Oswego Review June 30, 2016

Associate engineer for the City is accomplished athlete and dedicated Girl Scout leader

            Nothing makes Crystal Shum happier than smooth pavement.  “But getting there can be quite a bumpy road,” the Lake Oswego resident says.

Shum’s pun is definitely intended, but the reality is that being responsible for street-related capital improvement projects as an associate engineer for the City of Lake Oswego often requires navigating through a series of physical and political potholes. “Typically a public works leader manages a group of people responsible for the care and maintenance of all the city's assets (like infrastructure).  In our city we care for and maintain the city's water system, wastewater system, storm water systems, and roadways,” Shum says.   “It is a monumental task that starts with the staff that physically does the work in the field, our support staff, engineers who do the rebuilding and/or redesign of the system, and management who make sure what we are doing is in the best interest of the city.”

Shum, who has lived and worked in Lake Oswego for 12 years, is certainly qualified to do just that.  She has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Portland State University and recently completed more than 90 hours of training from the NW Public Works Institute.

The program, sponsored by the Washington and Oregon chapters of the American Public Works Association and the Oregon Technology Transfer Center, provides instruction for public works professionals who seek a higher level of proficiency as leaders and managers.

            “The aspect of my job that I really enjoy,” she says, “is being able to use my engineering knowledge to solve problems and to get things designed and built.”

            In her spare time, Shum devotes countless hours to the Girl Scouts of America, serving as a troop leader, volunteer trainer and more.  Recently, the organization awarded her the Girl Scout Honor Pin- one of its highest awards for adults- for being what one colleague called “a powerful role model to these girls.”

            “As a troop leader, she teaches and guides her girls to be proactive in numerous activities. She provides them a safe place to learn and make mistakes in a nurturing environment,” Fonda Franciscone says.  “Crystal gives them the tools that they need to be active in their community as well. Last year they volunteers for the Portland Marathon, and the troop also manned a Christmas tree recycling station.  I have been amazed at her dedication to Girl Scouts, as a leader, a service team member and a council trainer.”

            Shum is also an accomplished athlete who once worked as a ski instructor on Mount Bachelor and now runs marathons and triathlons.  Recently, we asked her to talk about the various facets of her life, which all seem to require intense dedication.

            Here’s what she had to say:

Q:  What is the best thing about your job with the city?

A:  The best part of my job is my coworkers.  The engineering department consists of a great group of people who are really dedicated to do their best for the community of Lake Oswego.

Q: What is your favorite street corner or intersection in the city?

A:  My favorite intersection is probably the roundabout at Carman Drive /Quarry Road/ Meadows Drive, because it works the way roundabouts should work.  Before the roundabout, cars would come to a four-way stop and have to take turns proceeding.  This can take a while, especially at an intersection that has higher traffic on it all day long.  The roundabout works there because the amount of traffic on all the legs is fairly even.  This allows for gaps to naturally happen within the rotary area, so vehicles can enter fairly quickly and move through the intersection efficiently.

            The one downfall of a roundabout is that pedestrians have a more difficult time being seen by drivers, because the drivers are paying more attention to the vehicle movements than the crosswalks that are located on the approaches to the roundabout.  So when we are the drivers, we need to make sure we pay special attention to the pedestrian crossings- especially at this roundabout, because the addition of Kruse Village has led to more pedestrian traffic.

Q: Any thoughts about the spot where Country Club Road intersects with Iron Mountain Boulevard and C Street?

A:  The intersection is difficult for many reasons:  There are six streets that come into the intersection and drivers aren't used to seeing that many points of contact.  Drivers may not be sure of who gets the right of way.   Coming from the west there are two lanes and a turn lane, so it is difficult for drivers heading west to see those cars making turns. Then the cars coming from the side streets are hard to see from some points of the intersection, so many poor decisions can be made.

Q: Why do you volunteer so intensively with the Girl Scouts?

A:  “I wanted to help empower girls to do great things. I also wanted to introduce my love of the outdoors to girls.  I am a troop leader, a council trainer, and a service unit team member.  My troop is currently a Cadette, Senior, and Ambassador level troop made up of girls from Lake Oswego High, Lake Oswego Junior High, and Lakeridge High.  I prefer to work with older girls because the Girl Scout experience can be whatever they want it to be.

Q: You mentioned sharing your love of the outdoors, which includes time you spent on the slopes as a ski pro in the early 90s.  Can you talk a little about that?

A:  I LOVED being a ski pro.  My first year I mostly taught kids 3 years old and up how to ski.   By my second year, I had achieved my Level 2 Professional Ski Instructors of America certification. I planned to continue on the ski instructor path but my parents put the pressure on me to find a "real" job.  As my dad told me, "You can't be a ski bum all your life.”  At that point decided to leave wildlife biology behind (Shum also has a bachelor’s in Wildlife Resources from West Virginia University) and pursue civil engineering.  I thought I would use my wildlife stuff in conjunction with engineering but instead I found my calling to be in asphalt roadway construction.

Q: You’ve completed many prestigious athletic events, including the Ironman 70.3 Eagleman (in Cambridge, Maryland), the Ironman Arizona (Tempe), and Ironman Canada (Penticton, British Columbia).  You’ve also finished the Eugene Marathon, and were part of the Team in Training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for the Pacific Crest Olympic Triathlon.  But one race you didn’t finish was the Boise Half Ironman.  What happened?

A: Sad to say, I did not finish the Boise Half Ironman.  I got pulled off the course due to hypothermia.  That was a crazy race that started at 2 PM, included a lightning storm where I was the tallest thing around on an aluminum bike (not smart!), and ended with me being placed in a nice warm truck because I wasn't able to answer questions at a bike aid station.

Q: You’re now training for the Marine Corps Marathon, which will be held on October 30th in Washington, DC.  Why run that race?

A: I love being able to run on the National Mall.  When I was a kid growing up in the D.C. area, I always wondered what it would be like to run on the Mall because I noticed that people who work there run on the Mall all the time.  I mean, how cool is that to be able to run by some of the most impressive buildings in the world?

Q: What’s your favorite sporting memory?

A:  Should I tell you about the time I was a volunteer at the Salt Lake City Olympics?  I got to be on the men's downhill course.  It was so cool because the crews were the only ones allowed up the hill due to security reasons.  It was right after 9/11 so security was very tight.  That meant that no one but volunteers were allowed to be on the hill.  We got some of the best views of the race, views that no one else got to see in person.

Q:  It sounds like you prefer to be outside whenever you can.  True?

A:  Yes, and if I can be with my dog in the outdoors it’s even better.   My favorite places in and around Lake Oswego are the parks. Tryon Creek is a perfect spot to go hiking without having to go too far.  You may also find my dog Sachiel (nicknamed Speed Bump!) and me at George Rogers Park, most likely in the morning or later evening so we miss the crowds.

Q:  What are you looking forward to this summer? 

A:  I am expecting this summer will be a bit hectic because of the nature of my job. Summers tend to be long workdays while construction is in full swing.  However, I am planning on taking some Girl Scouts on a backpack outing and hoping to get in a couple short solo backpack/camping trips around the area.

Q:  Any long term plans on your horizon?

A:  Next year I am planning on traveling to Hong Kong and China with my niece.  I hope to squeeze in a trip to Georgia and North Carolina to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail in the spring.   Since most long backpacking trips here in the Pacific Northwest don't usually open until the snow melts in June or July, it is fun to go back east to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail in the early season.