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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 75 · No. 5 > Recruiting the Next Generation

March/April 2012
Vol. 75 · No. 5

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-12-003

Recruiting the Next Generation

by Clark Martin and Stephanie Carter

The USDOT National Engineers Program is seeking the transportation innovators of the future. Someday, will some of them be your colleagues and the leaders of tomorrow?

Students from Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, MD, who participate in STEM pick up literature on engineering careers in transportation at USDOT’s National Engineers Program workshop.
Students from Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, MD, who participate in STEM pick up literature on engineering careers in transportation at USDOT's National Engineers Program workshop.

In the face of retirements in the baby boom generation, concern is growing in the transportation community about the industry's ability to meet its workforce needs. At the same time, demand for transportation services is increasing faster than available resources.

A key response from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) was the annual National Engineers Program, which started in 2000 to introduce middle school, high school, and college students to various engineering fields as they relate to transportation. On April 6, 2011, USDOT held the National Engineers Program at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. The USDOT program is a complement to the National Engineers Week held every February, but they are distinct and separate activities.

At the April event, Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari led a host of presenters drawn from the department's operating administrations, university engineering schools, and professional engineering organizations. The purpose was to recognize the continuing contribution that engineers make to the transportation enterprise and to describe the unique and rewarding opportunities available through a career in transportation-related engineering disciplines.

The specific objectives of the 1-day program were to acquaint students with the challenges involved in providing a safe, effective, and efficient transportation system and to describe the policies and programs to address those challenges. Other objectives were to familiarize them with the programs, expectations, and cultures of university engineering programs and to inform them about the missions and activities of national professional engineering organizations, including programs for students and support for engineering career professionals.

More than 350 students from 15 high schools in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia participated in the program. Recognizing the potential of women in the engineering field, the program welcomed 12 female students from the all-girls Holton-Arms School in nearby Bethesda, MD. The Holton-Arms participants excel in what is generally referred to as the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Altogether, more than 100 girls attended.

Students came away from the program knowing more about transportation, the engineering discipline, and the wide range of career opportunities available in the transportation industry. The program helped to reinforce USDOT's commitment to developing the transportation workforce.

Highlights of the program included talks by Deputy Secretary Porcari, National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) President Christopher Stone, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Associate Administrator for Infrastructure King Gee (now retired), and other notables, plus a special robotics presentation by students from Phelps High School.

Porcari: Transportation's Importance

In his comments to the students, Porcari said, "For both Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and me, the high point of our days and our jobs is to talk with people like you who have the whole future ahead of you and who represent the America of tomorrow. Whatever you do, be the best at it, and be passionate about it. Do those two things and you will be great."

He added that transportation is bigger than the facilities made of concrete, steel, and asphalt; it is about a "long-term vision." The Obama Administration's priorities for the future, Porcari said, focus on "investing in education, investing in research, and investing in infrastructure to build a better future for America. A world-class transportation system is what will build a better a quality of life for the next generation and will create economic development opportunities."

Porcari asked the students to "think about 2050; that's only 39 years from now. The U.S. will have 100 million more Americans than we have today, which will be like adding the populations of California, Florida, New York, and Texas. Think about how congested our transportation system is today. Add 100 million more people, and you understand the challenge we have, and why we are so excited about building the future infrastructure system of America."

Left to right: FMCSA Associate Administrator Bill Quade, NSPE President Christopher Stone, FHWA Associate Administrator King Gee, and NHTSA Director Stephen Ridella.t
Left to right: FMCSA Associate Administrator Bill Quade, NSPE President Christopher Stone, FHWA Associate Administrator King Gee, and NHTSA Director Stephen Ridella.

With gasoline prices close to $4 per gallon and likely to go even higher, he noted that engineers have to develop and manage the transportation system in an environmentally sustainable way. "We have the rare opportunity, one that hasn't happened in a very long time, to build a transportation system that connects people to jobs, to opportunities that literally enhance quality of life, and do it in an environmentally sustainable way. The jobs of tomorrow depend on our building this world-class transportation network. Now is the time, and we are doing it in ways that haven't been done in the past."

The deputy secretary provided several examples of U.S. efforts to address these transportation challenges. "We are going to connect 80 percent of America by high-speed rail in the next 25 years. That's actually a shorter timeframe and a bigger challenge than President Eisenhower had for the interstate system."

For aviation, he said, the Next Generation Air Transportation System will replace the 1940s' radar-based system. NextGen, as it is known, is a four-dimensional, satellite-driven, global positioning system (GPS) for air transportation. "It is much more precise, much safer, and more environmentally friendly."

Porcari noted that "you have to go back 10 presidents to President Eisenhower to have the same kind of emphasis on transportation and infrastructure that you have with President Obama, and the reason is that we want to do right by the future." In the Great Depression, America invested in infrastructure, and in the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln initiated the transcontinental railroad. "Times have been a lot tougher in the past, but they also thought a lot bigger in the past. That is what we need to do today. We know it's going to take years of hard work to get where we're going."

The deputy secretary also spoke of safety as USDOT's top priority. "Safety is job one for us. You will see it in everything we do, in aviation, rail, highways, every part of the transportation system." Safe transportation includes personal responsibility. He asked the students to think about the safety issue they create when they text and drive: "You are a danger to yourself and to those around you." He noted that 34 States now have outlawed texting and driving because the practice kills more than 5,000 people each year.

Porcari also asked the students to consider transportation in generational terms. "In looking at transportation facilities around America, the bridges, the runways, the highways were conceived and designed and built and paid for by your parents, your grandparents, and in some cases your great-grandparents." He asked the students to "think about the imperative that we all have to do right by the next generation. Are we leaving a better legacy than we found? If you are honest with yourself, I think the answer is no. Every generation in America has left a better future for the next generation of Americans, and we have that obligation. That's why the transportation work we do is so important."

Stone: Professional Engineering

NSPE's Christopher Stone described his organization as a society of professionals from all engineering disciplines. The society has worked for 75 years to foster the ethical and competent practice of engineering, and to promote licensure for every engineer. Stone noted that "as licensed professional engineers, we take an oath and have the responsibility to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public in the practice of engineering."

Stone said he first became interested in engineering when he had to pick a major as a student at the Virginia Military Institute and chose civil engineering. "[I] loved the technology and the practical application of what I was learning in college," he says. "You don't just learn the science and physics to pass an examination, but to solve real-world engineering problems."

Stone's engineering career provided him with an opportunity to travel throughout the United States and worldwide. He's worked on everything from convention center projects and hospitals to high-tech facilities and schools, industrial facilities, bridges and waterfront structures, and even three transatlantic abort landing sites in Morocco, Spain, and West Africa for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) space shuttles. "Every day is a new set of challenges, and all the projects are unique."

NSPE President Christopher Stone encouraged the students to learn more about what it takes to be an engineer by visiting the NSPE Web site (www.nspe.org).
NSPE President Christopher Stone encouraged the students to learn more about what it takes to be an engineer by visiting the NSPE Web site (www.nspe.org).

Despite today's economic climate, the demand for qualified engineers remains strong, he told the students. Many economists are predicting a huge "brain drain" as the baby boom generation retires, he said, citing U.S. Department of Labor statistics: All engineering career fields will have above-average employment opportunities through 2018. Biomedical engineers have the strongest outlook with an expected 72 percent cumulative job growth, followed by computer software engineers and environmental engineers with job growth potentials of 34 percent and 30 percent respectively.

Stone told the students that engineers will be called upon to address critical problems facing the United States. "Today, our local and global communities face genuine problems that are going to have to be studied and solved by your generation, not my generation. Call them problems or challenges, they are significant. They include, but are not limited to, our country's aging infrastructure, our roads, our bridges, our transit systems, our energy dependence on fossil fuels, the decline in potable water, and the treatment of hazardous materials and wastewater." Stone cited traffic congestion as a prime example of the strain on the Nation's infrastructure, noting that "traffic congestion alone costs an estimated nearly $100 billion per year in lost productivity and delays."

One priority for the NSPE is the need for greater diversity in engineering. "Any profession should be a reflection of the face of society, and ours is not. For years, the engineering profession has been a white male-dominated profession, but thankfully today that is changing. Change is good [because] a diversity of backgrounds and thinking only yields better engineering solutions," Stone said. The NSPE is working closely with the Society of Women Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and others to remove roadblocks to entering the profession and to actively promote entering the engineering profession.

A second priority for NSPE is the need to make sustainability a key consideration in the management of transportation projects, given that resources are becoming more and more limited. Society is going to look to engineers to find sustainable resources. In addition to billions of gallons of groundwater withdrawn from U.S. aquifers by farmers and ranchers, billions of tons of topsoil are lost to erosion globally every year. At the same time, the world's population is increasing by tens of millions annually.

Stone went on to say that "the demands on our natural resources are overwhelming, and our dependence on fossil fuels is staggering." He told the students that depletion "will occur in [their] lifetime. We are not developing sustainable renewable resources fast enough to replace what we are consuming."

Stone encouraged the students to consider a career in engineering because "somewhere out there among you is the solution to each and every one of the challenges we face today."

Gee: Engineering And Highways

FHWA's King Gee served as moderator of the program and provided an overview of the history, design, and development of the Nation's highway system, including new technology. He recounted the critical role that President Dwight D. Eisenhower played in the development of the interstate system. General Eisenhower recognized the value of effective transportation for troop and equipment movements when he was Supreme Commander of the U.S. and coalition forces in Europe during World War II. As president, he made his vision of a national interstate highway system a reality in the 1950s and 1960s.

As a result of growing transportation needs and new technologies, the Nation's highway network continues to evolve. Citing the projected increase in vehicle miles traveled and significant increases in highway freight movements, Gee commented on the vital role of technological improvements in all areas of highway design, construction, and management in efforts by FHWA and State departments of transportation (DOTs) to meet the Nation's growing transportation needs. He also explained the challenges to the highway industry to provide for an effective, efficient highway system in the face of a deteriorating infrastructure that continues to suffer the effects of weather and higher-than-expected traffic volumes.

Gee described the FHWA initiative Every Day Counts, which has engaged the highway industry's entire public and private sectors to employ specific methods, approaches, and technologies that enhance project development and shorten delivery times. Many of these methods and technologies also provide significant safety benefits in roadway design and construction.

Additional Viewpoints

Speakers from a number of other transportation agencies also shared their perspectives on the industry. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), for example, was represented by Associate Administrator for Enforcement and Program Delivery Bill Quade, who reminded the audience that truck and bus safety is important to all highway users. He described the industry's safety challenges and the role that engineering plays in commercial vehicle safety.

Stephen Ridella of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Office of Applied Vehicle Safety Research said his agency is focused on efforts to contribute to the safety of vehicle occupants, pedestrians, and other road users. Specifically, he noted that NHTSA's mission is to "save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes through education, research, safety standards, and enforcement activity" and added that "engineers play a key role in all of these activities."

A student poses a question to one of the speakers during the workshop.
A student poses a question to one of the speakers during the workshop.

Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Associate Administrator Vincent Valdes, Office of Research, Demonstration, and Innovation, noted that the need for efficient, effective, and safe transit transportation will continue throughout the country. One of FTA's leading efforts is to identify new ways of improving transit service to meet the needs of an increasing ridership. He encouraged students to think about their future careers as engineers as an art and practice that is "based in science, technology, and mathematics, and to remember the responsibility engineers have to innovate, be creative, and apply that artistic and personal touch, and that is what will allow your career as an engineer to stand out in the crowd."

The Federal Railroad Administration's Melissa Shurland, Rail Energy, Environment, and Engine (E3) Technology Research program manager, described how engineers are "helping to improve safety by developing onboard and wayside equipment to monitor train health, researching the effects of the railroad environment on employees' health, and reducing the severity of train incidents through research, development, and demonstration activities."

Carlos Manduley, senior advisor for educational partnerships, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), discussed his agency's role in providing for a safe, efficient air transportation system. He said that air transportation management is moving to a new level through the FAA's NextGen program.

Gregory Murrill, FHWA division chief for Corporate Recruitment and Career Programs Division, Office of Human Resources, provided insight into careers in the agency. Student employment programs administered by FHWA are designed to attract top talent and to develop and cultivate future leaders to meet the agency's needs.

Managing Director John Augustine, with USDOT's ITS Joint Program Office, Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), said that RITA is leading a number of innovative projects and assuring access to relevant, accurate, and reliable information and analysis necessary to make informed decisions to enhance safety, reduce congestion, and improve the overall performance of the transportation system. RITA also ensures that the United States is optimizing its more than $1 billion annual financial investment in transportation research, development, and technology. The agency fosters innovation in transportation; shapes the U.S. transportation research, development, and technology agenda consistent with departmental strategic goals; and advocates for integrating innovative technologies into the transportation system.

Three students peruse some handouts at the workshop.
Three students peruse some handouts at the workshop.

Vice President/Director Jeff Beard, of the Institute for Business Management at the American Council of Engineering Companies, described how engineers can help provide for sustainable products and services that will transform the way public works and infrastructure projects are conceived, designed, constructed, operated, and maintained.

Jonathan Esslinger, P.E., director of the Transportation and Development Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), noted that ASCE helps to advance civil engineering through numerous programs for its practicing members, student members, and other civil engineers.

In addition, Pamela Mullender, president and chief executive officer of the Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program of America, explained her organization's mentor program, which she described as a "blueprint for the future." The ACE mentor program teams high school students with engineering professionals. Currently, ACE has 7,100 mentors and programs in 42 States, the Caribbean, and Canada. An ACE scholarship program awards more than $12.5 million in college scholarships to students who are pursuing careers in the integrated construction industry.

University Presentations

When developing the National Engineers Program, USDOT recognized that the next major step for students on a path to a career in transportation engineering would most likely be enrollment in a university school of engineering. To address this interest, USDOT included presentations by professors from major university engineering schools in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. The focus on student preparation and development at the university level was not just about classes and curricula, but also described the importance of being prepared for university-level class work, the university environment, and the intangible qualities that enable students to thrive.

Errol Noel, Ph.D., department chair of the Howard University School of Engineering, discussed making career decisions and aligning student areas of interest with engineering and transportation workforce disciplines. He commented on the intangible considerations in making choices about fields of study, and which universities would provide the culture and an environment that fosters personal development based on a student's interests.

From the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Ibibia Dabipi, Ph.D., professor of engineering and aviation science, commented on the importance of students seeing themselves in the university setting, as part of the engineering discipline, and as individuals working toward a future as a transportation or civil engineer. He further stated that it is in the best interest of the students to recognize cultural differences and understand the importance of cultural integration in a global economy.

Kim Roddis, Ph.D., chair of the civil and environmental engineering department at The George Washington University, asked the students to think about how to solve the global transportation problems and to consider how we will survive on a planet where the population will increase to about 10 billion people by the year 2050. She suggested that the answers will come from the students who have acquired the necessary skill sets to meet those needs and find success in their careers. She also noted that "workforce development has become a topic of epic proportion." For USDOT, it is "an intermodal and intramodal issue. Each mode is ferociously trying to maintain and retain its expertise and critical knowledge sets within the knowledge infrastructure of the agency."

Roddis also noted an increasing interest in engineering among women: "An overwhelming number of women going into transportation already participate in the STEM programs. These students will more easily transition into the transportation workforce system and will be an asset to the industry."

Robotics Demonstration

Another highlight of the National Engineers Program was a special robotics demonstration provided by the Phelps High School Robotics Team #2912 from Baltimore, MD. The Phelps Robotics Team participates each year in NHTSA's For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) program competition. The FIRST Robotics Competition asks teams of students to design and build robots to perform prescribed tasks. NHTSA Administrator David Strickland leads the USDOT interest in supporting the FIRST program.

Phelps is a select, citywide high school with a rigorous math and science curriculum. NHTSA staff members Leo Yon and Scott Yon are mentors to the Phelps Team.

Students from the Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School Robotics Team #2912, shown here, demonstrated their robot as part of the day’s itinerary.
Students from the Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School Robotics Team #2912, shown here, demonstrated their robot as part of the day's itinerary.

 

The team designed the robot, Panther, to play Logo Motion, which is played on a 27- by 54-foot (8- by 16-meter) carpeted field divided into feeding lanes, scoring zones, and the remainder of the playing field. Logo Motion consists of two alliances of three teams each, trying to hang as many "logo pieces" on their scoring grids. The higher the row on the scoring grid, the more points awarded for a hung logo piece. During the USDOT event, Panther demonstrated its versatility by hanging several logo pieces on a scoring grid.

Next Steps

In a survey distributed for feedback, the overall consensus was that the program was informative. Students discovered how relevant transportation is to today's world. The program provided a platform for USDOT's senior operating administrators to speak to students with a strong interest in STEM. Students suggested that next year's program include a more hands-on approach with problem-solving activities. Plans currently are underway for the 2012 program.

A videotape of the program is available at FHWA's official YouTube channel (see URL below). By post-ing the day's presentations online, USDOT has made them available potentially for thousands of additional students and faculty members across the country to access the information and gain a better understanding of transportation and its continuing contribution to the quality of life in the United States. The video also contains information about how to prepare for transportation-related engineering careers and what students can expect as they pursue an engineering career.

A student from Phelps, 10th-grade electrical engineering major Henry Arias, is speaking about the team’s robotics project, while Terrell Lowery, a senior engineering major and team captain, looks on.
A student from Phelps, 10th-grade electrical engineering major Henry Arias, is speaking about the team's robotics project, while Terrell Lowery, a senior engineering major and team captain, looks on.

Clark Martin is the team leader for the Affiliate Programs Team for FHWA's Office of Technical Services. He and the team are responsible for strategic planning and policy implementation for transportation workforce development. He holds a B.S. in government politics from the University of Maryland.

Stephanie Carter is employed by Sevatec, Inc. as a program analyst and planner for the Universities and Grants Programs. She manages the annual USDOT National Engineers Program. She holds a B.A. in business administration from Philadelphia University.

To view videos of all the presentations, visit www.youtube.com/user/USDOTFHWA or click one of the links below. For more information, contact Stephanie Carter at 703-235-0532 or stephanie.carter.ctr@dot.gov.

Presentations from National Engineers Program (April 6, 2011)

Presentation

URL

"Engineers Move America" Introduction Video

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hv4S69e9evw

John D. Porcari, Deputy Secretary of Transportation

www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Q8mMR9vJwo

Christopher Stone, President Elect, NSPE

www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHFMHGPivsM

Bill Quade, Associate Administrator for Enforcement and Program Delivery, FMCSA

www.youtube.com/watch?v=okmoTAZlDps

King Gee, Associate Administrator for Infrastructure, FHWA

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hv4S69e9evw

Stephen Ridella, Office of Applied Vehicle Safety Research, NHTSA

www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_wviqWD

Vincent Valdes, Associate Administrator, Office of Research, Demonstration & Innovation, FTA

www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQBtQXkI

Melissa Shurland, Program Manager, FRA

www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6tbrJmnSO4

Carlos Manduley, Senior Advisor for Educational Partnerships, FAA

www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_R__vuS2t0

Gregory Murrill, Division Chief, Office of Human Resources, FHWA

www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDrPCbW3Vhk

John Augustine, Managing Director, USDOT ITS Joint Program Office, RITA

www.youtube.com/watch?v=rA3Wiqgf3EU

Jeff Beard, Vice President and Director, Institute for Business Management, ACEC

www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkHjOY-FatY

Jon Esslinger, Director, Development Transportation Institute, ASCE

www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAJDmGqyyNA

Pamela Mullender, Chief Operating Officer, ACE Mentor Program of America

www.youtube.com/watch?v=wq5Jogb5Yos

Dr. Errol Noel, Professor of Engineering, Howard University

www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKlphDd6fag

Ibibia Dabipi, Professor of Engineering and Aviation Science, UMES

www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ckNbEjQ-mk

Dr. Kim Roddis, Chair of the Civil and Environment Engineering Dept., GW University

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zt40AxLx6hw

 

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