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|Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 74 · No. 3 > Workforce Development in Action|
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-11-001
Workforce Development in Action
by Henry C. Murdaugh and Stephanie Carter
The Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship program continues to attract the best and brightest minds to the transportation field.
As the transportation field continues to evolve, the industry faces increasingly complex challenges, including rehabilitating an aging infrastructure, keeping pace with advanced technology, adapting to broad organizational changes, and meeting the growing demands of a global economy. To respond to these developments successfully requires a diverse, multidisciplinary, and well-trained workforce.
Over the past 10 years, however, public sector transportation agencies have seen a steady decline in personnel due to myriad factors, including retirements, career changes, and hiring and funding challenges. As a result, an inordinate amount of institutional knowledge has walked out the doors of Federal, State, and local transportation departments. Workforce development, therefore, has become a hot topic at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). The critical need to attract and retain talented employees has spurred heighten attention and activity across the Department and its related program areas.
Three fundamental questions are at the core of transportation workforce development: How can the transportation field attract qualified and motivated personnel? How can the field enhance the careers of the professionals it already has? And, ultimately, how can it retain talent over the long run? Fortunately, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has one answer for all three: the Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship program.
For nearly 30 years, the Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship program has served as a catalyst for transportation workforce development. To date, it has awarded more than 2,000 fellowships in a variety of fields, and more than 80 percent of recipients have gone on to careers in the transportation industry.
"I think the Eisenhower program is one of the most outstanding educational programs that our Federal Government provides for engineering education, especially civil engineering education," says Mark McDonald, assistant professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Vanderbilt University and former recipient of the Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship. "Although the focus is on transportation, [the program] is clearly broad enough to fund research on many problems of enormous social relevance -- managing our crumbling civil infrastructure, providing access to the central business districts of sprawling metropolitan areas, understanding the relationships between transportation and all the other critical social and economic sectors, providing safe and secure transportation in the midst of a global war on terror, ending our country's dependence on foreign oil, improving air and water quality, ensuring that our transportation system is funded in as fair and equitable a way as is possible, and so forth. The research that can be funded can have big policy ramifications, can save lives, or can save money."
Today the Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship program continues to provide funding for students pursuing undergraduate degrees, masters' degrees, or doctorates in transportation-related fields, filling a valuable role in attracting and retaining qualified highway professionals.
Almost 30 Years Strong
The Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship program began as the Grants for Research Fellowships program in 1983. FHWA first announced the grants program to acquaint the academic community with the capabilities of its Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) in McLean, VA.
The program had several objectives. One was to create a pool of talented students to help upgrade professional practices associated with delivering the Federal highway program. The program also sought to merge academic study and practical applications for students majoring in transportation fields and to extend and strengthen ties between FHWA and universities offering transportation-related degrees. A fourth objective was to encourage students to pursue careers in highway transportation.
In 1991, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act turned the grants program into the Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship program. The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, in turn, carried the authorization through 2009. (A continuing resolution extended appropriations through the end of 2010.)
The mission of the current Eisenhower Transportation Fellow-ship program remains largely unchanged: to advance transportation workforce development by attracting the brightest minds to the field, enhancing the careers of transportation professionals by encouraging them to pursue advanced degrees, and retaining top talent in the U.S. transportation industry.
"The generosity of the Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship program allowed me to work on my Ph.D. full-time, enabling me to immerse myself in research and complete more tasks faster," says Nelson Gibson, an FHWA research civil engineer at TFHRC. "I am quite grateful for the support from the program, and the added exposure influenced my decision to pursue a career at FHWA."
Dr. Robert Bertini, deputy administrator of the Research and Innova-tive Technology Administration (RITA), received an Eisenhower fellowship while a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. "The Eisenhower program not only supported my graduate studies in transportation engineering, but it connected me to students at other universities who are now colleagues and leaders in the transportation field," Bertini says. "In addition, as a professor at Portland State University, I had the opportunity to encourage and supervise Eisenhower fellows who are among the next generation of transportation professionals, faculty members, and leaders."
A Legacy to Build On
The Eisenhower program now consists of eight fellowship categories (the original Grants for Research Fellowships program is now one of the eight). The categories represent the diversity of the current and future transportation workforce, emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of modern transportation, and extend professional expertise beyond the traditional areas of engineering and science.
In 2005, the Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship program created the People with Disabilities Fellowship to place greater emphasis on attracting individuals with disabilities into the transportation field. Then, in 2009, the program initiated the Community College Fellowship. In the United States, more than 40 percent of science and engineering college students attend community colleges, so now the program has a way to tap into this growing audience of talented students to encourage them to pursue career opportunities in transportation.
Of the eight categories, the Graduate Fellowships and Grants for Research Fellowships might be considered the premiere programs because, once the recipients have completed their fellowships, they have research and work experience and are workforce-ready.
"Being a graduate research fellow in the Eisenhower program opened the door for my being employed by FHWA," says Morris Oliver, a transportation specialist in the agency's Office of Safety. "After completing the fellowship, I signed up for a temporary position at TFHRC until a position opened on FHWA's 18-month master's training program. I have enjoyed my 21-year career with FHWA and probably would not have considered a career in the Federal Government if I hadn't been selected as an Eisenhower fellow."
Recipients of the Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship have the opportunity to present their research at the Transportation Research Board's (TRB) annual meetings, enabling them to share their work with the broader transportation community. The meetings feature four sessions that highlight achievements of the fellowship program: the Innovative Doctoral Transportation Research Showcase, Eisenhower Transportation Fellow-ship Program Research Showcase, and two Eisenhower Fellowship Program Poster Sessions. Many awardees present their research at other TRB sessions as well. In 2010 alone, recipients presented at 49 TRB sessions in addition to the traditional four Eisenhower sessions.
Challenge for the Future
The success of the Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship program has hinged on its ability to evolve and meet the changing needs of the transportation industry's workforce. "The kind of work I did was made possible because of the flexibility that the doctoral fellowship offered," says McDonald. "Unrestricted funding to pursue 'outside the box' ideas is not easy to come by. That's the beauty of the Eisenhower doctoral fellowship: It allows motivated graduate students to pursue ideas that may not be at the stage where their advisers can win funding through the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, National Science Foundation, or some other agency, but also may be a little too outside the box for State transportation departments that often need answers in short order for practical problems that they face immediately."
The Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship program now faces a growing challenge, however, partly due to its own success. Although the program has expanded to encompass a broader range of students to meet the needs of the future transportation workforce, funding levels have remained flat over the past 15 years. The static funding level has limited the program's ability to compete for additional qualified students whom the industry so sorely needs.
Today the Eisenhower Transpor-tation Fellowship program encompasses all modes of transportation. Former fellowship recipients have worked or are working for USDOT, in field offices, headquarters, and across multiple modal administrations -- including FHWA, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and RITA. Former recipients are represented at all management levels within the agencies (General Schedule Grade 14 through Senior Executive Service). Many former recipients work in academia as well. The program also can boast that it has third-generation Eisenhower recipients; that is, former recipients in academia have sent their students on to participate in the program, and these students-cum-professors have in turn encouraged some of their students to become Eisenhower fellows.
"Working directly with industry professionals on relevant and timely transportation issues is the best way to learn while doing," says Alrik Svenson, a former recipient and now a research engineer and program manager in NHTSA's Office of Applied Vehicle Safety Research. "The Eisenhower fellowship program puts you in the driver's seat for future career success. The experience and the networking contacts gained through the program last a lifetime."
Henry C. Murdaugh is the FHWA program manager of the Universities and Grants Programs (U&GP) in FHWA's Office of Technical Services, Technology Partnership Programs. He has more than 20 years of grants/contracts and program management experience at the Federal and State levels.
Stephanie Carter is employed by Sevatec, Inc., as a program analyst for U&GP. She oversees all marketing and is an advocate writer for U&GP, organizes the annual National Engineers Week program, and focuses on workforce development for the highway transportation industry.
For more information, contact Henry C. Murdaugh at email@example.com or Stephanie Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org. The authors also wish to acknowledge the U&GP staff: Camron Ranje, team leader and systems analyst, and Gerald Hill, program analyst, for their support of the Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship program
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