Not many college graduates are fortunate enough to walk across the stage in May and be on staff at one of the nation’s most prestigious trade associations only a few months later.
Count Caitlin Smith as one of the fortunate ones.
Smith graduated from the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland, in May 2019 and was named to the position of Meetings Coordinator at the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) last January. She had to hit the ground running.
There is little doubt that she and her supervisor, TCA’s Director of Meetings Kristen Bouchard, have been busy this year, because meetings are essential for advancing the mission of any organization, whether in person, virtually or teleconference, and especially during a global pandemic.
Smith learned under fire not only the importance of trucking in the midst of COVID-19, but also the execution of meetings in an entirely new format due to social distancing.
“To try and plan meetings during a pandemic presents a special challenge because things are constantly changing,” shared Smith. “As a new employee, what’s happened (during the pandemic) has shown me the (trucking) industry’s resilience and willingness to stick with it and tough it out, because there are numerous obstacles in the way to plan these meetings. One thing’s for sure, and that is that our members want to meet. Whether it’s virtual or in person, they’re willing to work through the obstacles, whether that be changing the location at the last minute or a change in a date. Throughout the pandemic, the industry’s resilience has been absolutely admirable.”
Smith was born, raised, and still lives at home in Eldersburg, Maryland, as part of a close-knit family that includes her father Scott, a mortgage loan officer; mother Nancy, who runs a medical practice; older sister, Amanda; and younger sister, Emily.
Smith has also learned the challenges of commuting. It currently takes Smith an hour to get to the TCA office in Alexandria, Virginia, so she’s looking forward to being able to move to Washington, D.C., allowing her to be closer to work and being able to regularly see her sister Amanda, who already lives in D.C.
Caitlin started her path toward joining the TCA by first finding an interest in policy and trade while in college.
“I knew I liked politics and government but wasn’t sure what facet of those areas of study I wanted to pursue,” she said. “Eventually, I settled on majoring in public policy, and then when I interned at the International Trade Administration within the Department of Commerce, I became excited about the trade world, which is why I ended up at a trade association.”
While she obviously didn’t know it at the time, her classes and the internship were preparing her for the job at TCA.
“One of the classes that I took that was the most applicable to my job at TCA was my nonprofit writing class, which had a lot to do with writing for a job hunt (resumes, cover letters), but also when you’re in a job, how to organize and execute a project, and manage multiple priorities and timelines while not sacrificing quality along the way” explained Smith.
When she graduated, Smith said she didn’t 100% know she wanted to work at a trade association, just that she wanted to work in the trade world.
Like any recent college graduate, she was surfing the internet looking for job possibilities and found TCA was looking for a meetings coordinator.
She first had a phone interview with Bouchard. An in-person interview followed, and shortly thereafter the job was hers.
“It was obvious when Caitlin came to TCA in January 2020 that she was going to make a strong addition to the team,” said Bouchard. “She is bright, welcoming, and has a passion for keeping projects on schedule. She joined TCA just prior to our Annual Convention in Orlando and transitioned with us into what can only be described as an unprecedented time. Since then, Caitlin has successfully collaborated with staff, hotels, and vendors to navigate through numerous event changes and cancellations.”
Smith knew the position with TCA was right for her because of the approachable nature of the organization and its undeniably positive “energy.”
“I felt it was a good fit and I immediately felt like a valued member of the team,” recalled Smith.
Very quickly after starting work at TCA, Smith came to recognize the strength and significance of the trucking industry.
“This might sound silly, but what I didn’t realize was the critical nature of the industry,” she said. “Trucking is one of those things that can exist in the background of your life. You obviously see semi-trucks when you’re driving on the highway, but you don’t always give it a second thought. Now being close to the industry I see how important it is. This is especially true during a pandemic when people need supplies urgently and truckers are called upon to be essential workers.”
As important as trucking is to the nation, so are well-run meetings to TCA members.
Smith helps make sure that happens.