#CTASpotlight | Zoe Smith: A Montana Duality

When Zoe (pronounced Zoh) Smith speaks about Montana, she pays respect to the raw survival instinct it demands, its rough-and-tumble roots, and its gruff no-nonsense attitude. Without a doubt, Zoe radiates these same qualities, sharing the essence of her home state. The delightful surprise, though, is that she embodies them without sacrificing an incredibly warm and supportive spirit.

Though she was born in Georgia, she comes from a long line of Montanans and has lived in the state for nearly her entire life. She was raised by her single mother from a very early age and sees her as a role model for how to be a tenacious person in the world. With a toddler at home, Zoe’s mom put herself through college to ultimately pursue a career in social and criminal justice. Witnessing this strength as a small girl, Zoe identified her own goals at a young age: she would pursue a professional career in order to ensure her ability to support herself independently. She also knew she wanted to go to school in Bozeman because they offered great technical programs — well, that and they had the best skiing.

Her journey was different than her mother’s, but Zoe blazed a trail of her own: she became a mechanical engineer. Studying engineering was not the easy path for Zoe, especially as a woman in a very male department, but that is exactly what fueled her. With grit, stubbornness, plenty of fear, and a fair amount of courage, she persevered and successfully made it out the other side.

Out of school, Zoe briefly worked as a consultant for a government agency. Her time there was short-lived because she quickly identified a lack of mentorship and growth opportunities. Fortunately, though, this drove her to seek a position at CTA, which she still calls her home away from home 20 years later. As a mechanical engineer, she spends her day collaborating with team members to develop and communicate a plan for a building’s HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems. This means studying climate demands and building loads, redlining documents, making calculations, modeling systems, and collaborating with architects to ensure their designs are compatible, integrated, and even complimentary.

Zoe also holds the title of office manager for the Helena office, although she’s not a fan of the label. “My office is full of people who can manage themselves. I just make sure the sidewalk is shoveled and that everyone has enough sticky notes! I manage the building more than anything.” When it comes to the people in her office, Zoe is quick to use the word “family,” and refers to herself as the matriarch/mama bear. The Helena office is one of CTA’s smallest, with only 11 members. According to Zoe, this has resulted in an environment where each and every person is invaluable and integral to the group. With such a small team, every ripple in the pond is noticed and the office is quick to rally around their own.

Outside of the office, Zoe is likely skiing at Discovery Basin or mountain biking with her husband, Scot-with-one-t, who’s a printmaker, a graphic designer, and a Helena native. The two met while working at a ski shop in college and just recently celebrated their 30th anniversary. They share joy in the quiet solitude of small-town Montana, the kind of place where Zoe’s duality of tenacity and warmth (and her mama bear personality) fits like a winter glove.

The #CTASpotlight series features the unique stories of team members from the many CTA offices and disciplines. Find more stories like this one here.