She puts campus commuters on road to sustainability

By Judy Lin
Originally published in UCLA Today

Imagine UCLA with no carpools, vanpools, subsidized fares for public transit or BruinBus shuttles — just a campus teeming with thousands of smog-spewing cars.

That was UCLA before Penny Menton went to work in the then-fledgling transportation department in 1982. A Bruin alumna with an infectious can-do attitude, Menton had already risen from her first campus job as a sales clerk to operations manager of the UCLA Store. Along the way, she also became acquainted with a customer named John Wooden, whose maxims she draws inspiration from to this day.
Wooden’s "Nothing will work unless you do" could well have applied to Menton’s approach to her new job that took her into the burgeoning new field of alternative transportation. At a time when the word "sustainability" hadn’t yet entered the lexicon, UCLA was seeking ways to cut traffic congestion and improve air quality — and it was Menton’s task to help accomplish that.

At the same time, Menton was also working on getting an M.B.A. in marketing and organizational development at UCLA’s Graduate School of Management to add to her master’s in international relations and B.A. in political science and economics.

"It was an opportunity," she recalled. "And I’m big on opportunities. … I like to make things happen."
Now associate director of UCLA Events and Transportation, Menton has made plenty happen. For nearly three decades, she has helped develop an alternative transportation program that serves as a model to universities and other major organizations nationwide.

In that time, the UCLA Rideshare Office, vanpool program, BruinBus shuttle and a subsidized public transit program have hit the road, earning numerous industry awards for innovative marketing and consistently meeting environmental compliance and regulatory requirements.

Today, almost 43 percent of all faculty, staff and students have given up solo driving to get to campus, cutting out more than 1.4 million vehicle trips and 18.6 pounds of greenhouse gases each year. These numbers have enabled UCLA to meet reduced greenhouse gas levels set out by both the state and the UC regents well before the 2014 deadline.

food drive

Menton is quick to credit her team for these accomplishments. "I don’t like it to be about me," she said. "I’ve always had the support and talent of a strong, motivated team."

Teamwork is key for her, said Menton, who inherited her drive to be innovative from her parents, both engineers. "I really like to be able to work with other people and accomplish things together. Anything I come up with becomes so much better."

Her multifaceted job finds her overseeing integrated marketing, communications and public relations, training and development, event planning and commuter services. She also collaborates with colleagues across campus, from UCLA Recreation to the numerous departments that participate in the annual sustainability fair, which she helped launch in 2007.

"I feel we’re doing the right thing and making a contribution not only for UCLA but for the community at large," said Menton.

A staunch advocate for volunteerism who has herself given up tens of thousands of hours in her lifetime, Menton recently received the UCLA Staff Assembly/Chancellor’s Excellence in Service Award for Civic Engagement.

For the past four years, Menton has led the campuswide holiday food drive, which last year collected more than 40,000 pounds of food and toiletries for the L.A. Regional Food Bank, the Union Rescue Mission in L.A.’s Skid Row and the UCLA Food Closet. And every year on Volunteer Day, when thousands of students fan out across the city, Menton can be found at the Union Rescue Mission putting to work 400-plus volunteers.

Outside of UCLA, Menton has long played an active role in her family’s San Gabriel Valley community, from serving on the local school board to planning wedding ceremonies at her church. Married to a manager for a winery, she has two sons – one in college and the other on a professional ice hockey team in Scotland.

"For me, it’s always been about helping others … and that translates into service," she said. And getting other Bruins involved in worthwhile volunteer projects makes it even better.

"John Wooden," she added, "said it best: ‘You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.’"