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Lessons from dad, granddad guide Stephanie Watts’ planning

By Bryan Richardson

Part of being a planner is knowing what works best.

So when you ask Stephanie Watts about her opinion of a picture of her, she’ll give it to you.

“Don’t use that one,” she said. “It makes me look shy, which I’m not.”

Watts is the transportation planning manager for the Flint Hills Metropolitan Planning Organization, which provides regional transportation planning and programming services.

When Watts started in May 2013, she was the first fulltime staff person, a status she held until July 2016 when Jared Trembly became the second full-time staff person.

Watts said the job — particularly when she was the only full-time staff person — requires being a self starter and having a strong work ethic.

“A lot of that came from my summers spent on a wheat farm in western Kansas, driving the grain carts, working alongside my granddad and my dad,” she said. Watts left her job as a transportation planner for the Kansas Department of Transportation to take the job with the Flint Hills organization. She said she liked the challenge of starting something new.

“As soon as I no longer have challenges at the MPO, that’s when I’ll look for something else,” she said.

Watts is a K-State graduate, receiving her master’s degree in regional and community planning and a bachelor’s degree in social sciences with a minor in leadership studies.

“I always say I fell into planning,” she said. “I started out at K-State in engineering.”

While at K-State, Watts said she realized planning is “this mix of engineering and the design element of architecture that I liked.”

Watts was following in the footsteps of her father, who is an engineer. Growing up in Topeka, she said she would shadow her dad when he worked at different hospital projects.

“I’m definitely my dad, hands-down,” she said of her Type-A personality.

After Watts gave a presentation Saturday at the Flint Hills Regional Leaders Retreat, attendees walked up to her to thank her for the information. “Awesome job this morning,” Cherlyn White-Conklin of Bank of the Flint Hills said. “You’re the reason that I got up and wasn’t late. You have those nerdy statistics that I love.”

“Good job,” Manhattan public works director Rob Ott said on his way out. Watts, a former Manhattan city government intern, said she enjoys the opportunity to work with people who helped her out early on. “I sat outside of Rob’s desk when I was an intern,” she said. “To come back and work with these people I view as people I aspire to be is honestly one of the most rewarding parts of what I do.”

When Watts is not at work, she is likely with her two sons, Grayson, 4, and Beckham, 2.

“I don’t have spare time,” Watts said. “I have two kids.”

Those two boys often remind her of two influential men in her life: her dad and granddad.

Watts called Grayson her “mini-me,” meaning that he also shares traits with her dad.

“He likes to know when things are going to happen,” she said. “If there’s a change, he wants to have enough time make accommodations for that change.”

Watts referred to Beckham as “Baby Smash” because of his orneriness. She said Beckham has the same personality as her granddad, with whom he shares a birthday.

“You can’t get mad at them because it’s this sweet and ornery combination,” she said. “They have this twinkle in their eye that’s identical.” Living in Manhattan, Watts makes sure to get a healthy dose of K-State football. Watts started going to games when she was 2. Grayson’s first game was at six months old, and Beckham first went to a game at 2 weeks old. Watts said she would like to see her sons eventually attend K-State like her and her dad but doesn’t want to make it an expectation.

“It’s really whatever their interests are and the best school,” Watts said. “I fully support what they choose as long as it’s a school for the right reasons.” There’s an obvious exception. “Unless it’s KU,” Watts said with a laugh. “I can’t support that. My dad told me the same thing.”

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