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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 62· No. 4 > The Garrett A. Morgan Program: Shaping the Future of Transportation

Jan/Feb 1998
Vol. 62· No. 4

The Garrett A. Morgan Program: Shaping the Future of Transportation

by S. Lawrence Paulson

The life of an African-American inventor and entrepreneur is serving as the inspiration for a forward-looking Department of Transportation (DOT) program aimed at encouraging students from kindergarten to college to consider careers in transportation.

The Garrett A. Morgan Technology and Transportation Futures Program was unveiled in Cleveland on May 30, 1997, by Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater. Slater noted that President Clinton had challenged Americans to keep pace with technological innovations and to ensure that all American children have the skills needed for jobs in the 21st century.

"We want to inspire students to choose careers in transportation so that this nation will have the skilled workforce needed to operate and maintain the world's best transportation system," Slater said.

It's no accident that Cleveland was chosen as the site to introduce the new DOT program. The Ohio city was the home of Garrett Augustus Morgan (1877-1963), a man who overcame a background of poverty and lack of formal education to forge a long and distinguished business career that included the development of a pioneering traffic-control device.

Garrett A. Morgan

Garrett A. Morgan was an inventor and businessman - a man whose lifetime achievement is a model of dedication to public service, safety, and technological innovation.

In fact, Morgan's three-position traffic signal, for which he received a patent in 1923, could be considered the forerunner of modern intelligent transportation systems (ITS). Prior to his invention, most traffic signs in use had only two positions: stop and go. These manually operated two-position signals were an improvement over uncontrolled intersections, but because they allowed no interval between stop and go commands, collisions at busy intersections were common.

Morgan's signal was a T-shaped pole that featured three positions: stop, go, and an all-direction stop position. This third position halted traffic in all directions before vehicles were allowed to proceed on either of the intersection's roads. This feature not only made it less dangerous for motorists to travel through intersections but also allowed pedestrians to cross safely.

Morgan also developed a number of other inventions, including a gas mask that was later refined for use by U.S. soldiers during World War I. Slater has often said that Morgan is his hero, a man whose lifetime achievement is a model of dedication to public service, safety, and technological innovation.

A Work Force for the 21st Century

Even without the Garrett A. Morgan Program, the nation's transportation jobs have always been filled by dedicated, creative workers who have built and maintained the world's finest transportation system. Why, then, is there now a need for a special educational program?

Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater

On May 30, 1997 Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater unveils the Garrett A. Morgan Technology and Transportation Futures Program at the Morgan School of Science in Cleveland, Ohio.

"We are at a crossroads in the transportation field," Slater explained. "Much of the nation's seasoned work force is retiring. Meanwhile, the demand for both traditional and new skills is expanding." The Morgan Program is designed to ensure that "today's generations are prepared to become the transportation work force of the 21st century."

"One in seven jobs in America today is transportation-related, and that ratio means we will continue to need skilled transportation workers for many years to come," said Slater. Like most industries, transportation is becoming more tech-tech every day. A strong proficiency in math and science is a prerequisite for a career in transportation, and the poor performance of many students in the areas of math and science are a cause for great concern. For example, 40 percent of high school seniors failed a standard science exam, reported The Washington Post on Oct. 22, 1997.

While the Morgan Program is still a work-in-progress at DOT, its objectives are clear. The program is intended to:

  • Establish a partnership among DOT, the private sector, and communities to ensure that today's students are prepared to become tomorrow's transportation workers.
  • Develop a curriculum that can begin as early as kindergarten to interest students in transportation and provide learning tools that continue to be useful at the adult education level.
  • Provide the technologies that will enable students to develop skills that they can apply to transportation careers.

Secretary Slater and Morgan School Student.

Secretary Slater and a Morgan School Student are mesmerized by a display of a flight simulator.

The very first partnerships announced under the program involved Cleveland's Garrett A. Morgan School of Science, a school for students in grades six, seven, and eight. Slater stated that these partnerships would serve as a pattern for the national program. At the program's kickoff ceremony in May, he announced that DOT would donate 30 computers to the school; that the Cleveland Federal Executive Board would adopt the school; and that other community partners would help Morgan students by donating computer supplies (including software and Internet access), by participating in career day and career development activities, and by establishing ongoing mentoring and tutoring relationships.

Since May, DOT has acted quickly to give the Morgan Program a national scope. The program has a vision (to reach a million students by the year 2000), a tag line ("Educating the Work Force of Tomorrow"), and a mission statement ( "To help prepare students academically and professionally to join the transportation work force of the 21st century and to increase awareness of the tremendous opportunities in the transportation field").

The program has four components: (1) math, science, and technology literacy for kindergarten through 12th grade; (2) collaborative efforts with community and junior colleges and technical schools; (3) college and graduate school degree programs; and (4) lifelong learning opportunities.

A department-wide working group under the overall direction of Kelley Coyner, acting administrator of DOT's Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA), has been working diligently, and the program is taking shape in a number of ways. A program prospectus has been issued; materials for both students and teachers are being developed; a World Wide Web site is under construction; and focused outreach activities are well underway.

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, Principal Laverne Hooks, and Cleveland Mayor Michael White.

(From left) Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, Principal Laverne Hooks of the Morgan School of Science, and Cleveland Mayor Michael White - partners in the Garrett A. Morgan Technology and Transportation Futures Program.

An important outreach effort was the Oct. 30 meeting of the Morgan Education Roundtable in Washington, D.C. The Roundtable is a new public-private alliance of the federal government and more than 200 education, labor, and transportation organizations. Participants in the October meeting included chief executive officers of major corporations, university presidents, and leaders of professional organizations and associations. They discussed opportunities to promote the Morgan Program's goal of attracting young people to transportation careers as well as potential obstacles to its success. The Roundtable aims to advance the mathematical, scientific, and technological skills of 1 million students through the year 2000.

In February 1998, a new Morgan Program initiative will begin in five elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school in the Suitland, Md., area. The initiative, called the "School-to-Work Program," will focus on mentoring, tutoring, curriculum development, "career days," and work-based learning opportunities to help students to become aware of and to prepare for transportation careers. Eventually, all of the students in Prince Georges County, Md., will be able to participate in this program.

Defining FHWA's Role

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), like other parts of DOT, is in the process of determining how it can best contribute to the Morgan Program. FHWA's efforts are being coordinated by the four FHWA members of the Morgan working group: Jerry A. Hawkins, director of the Office of Personnel and Training; Judith C. Johnson, branch chief in the Publishing and Visual Communications Division; Dr. Ilene Payne, director of Universities and Grants Programs for the National Highway Institute; and Lorraine Day, chief of the Career Programs Branch of the Office of Personnel and Training. Under the Morgan Program, FHWA has already:

  • Provided funds to sponsor and support 20 Morgan scholars in a National Aeronautics and Space Administration summer internship program for science and math students. The internship was on the campus of Morgan State University in Baltimore.
  • Conducted the Summer Transportation Internship Program for Diverse Groups, in which 15 students selected from colleges and universities around the nation worked for 10 weeks at DOT headquarters. This internship was designed to expose them to a wide range of transportation-related experiences.
  • Given tours of the Garrett A. Morgan ITS Room in FHWA headquarters and produced a brochure, "ITS for KIDS," to help youngsters participating in the Pathways to Freedom National Program to learn about transportation issues.

Judith Johnson said key 1997 and 1998 FHWA outreach activities include presentations on the Garrett A. Morgan Program at the annual meetings of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Transportation Research Board (TRB). These efforts will spread the word about the program to transportation managers at the state level. After that, Johnson says, the focus will be on making sure that all parts of FHWA are involved in the program.

"The next step is to be sure we have a contact from each [FHWA] office, so we can begin to look at a strategic plan for FHWA and the direction we're going with the Garrett Morgan Program," she said.

In addition, FHWA and the Morgan Program are linked by the ITS Professional Capacity Building (PCB) Program, which promotes training, education, and outreach to advance the deployment of ITS throughout the nation. Among PCB's goals are ensuring that enough trained professionals are available to build, operate, and maintain an ITS infrastructure and cultivating the next generation of ITS-trained transportation professionals.

"There definitely is synergy (between PCB and the Morgan Program). It fits perfectly into that frame," said Thomas Humphrey, coordinator of the PCB program.

Secretary Slater and Mayor White pose with the descedants of Garrett Morgan.

Secretary Slater (far left) and Mayor White (far right) pose with the descedants of Garrett Morgan: (from left) granddaughter Margo Morgan, granddaughter Tracy Morgan Diaz, daughter-in-law Willa M. Morgan, and granddaughter Sandra Morgan.

Generating Excitement

It's clear that the Morgan Program's success will be judged at least in part by its ability to generate excitement about transportation among very young students and to maintain that interest as young people begin to think seriously about their careers. But can road design, traffic control, and safety engineering really compete with, for example, space travel to capture the imaginations of children? Acting RSPA Administrator Coyner believes it can.

"We think that when kids really know what transportation careers are all about, they find them very exciting," she said. "What we found last week, when we had a group of over a hundred students in the building, was that they were fascinated by the kinds of technologies that are on display in the ITS conference room and they were really excited about the crisis management center and the kinds of things that you can do in terms of responding to a disaster.

"When they have a hands-on experience, when they see what real live people do in the transportation field - assist in an emergency, use computers to help people avoid crashes or find the best way to get someplace - they get very enthusiastic about it," she said. And Coyner hopes DOT employees are just as enthusiastic about making the Morgan Program a success.

"I want to emphasize that there's a role for each FHWA employee to play, as well as a role for everyone else who's in the transportation profession," she said. "We each have an opportunity to be a source of information about transportation careers. We each can serve as a role model."

S. Lawrence Paulson is a partner in Hoffman Paulson Associates, a writing/editing and public relations firm in Hyattsville, Md. He has written and edited numerous studies for the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. He also spent seven years covering Congress as the Washington bureau chief of a national daily newspaper, The Oil Daily.

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