Friday, March 25, 2011

Leadership in Transportation Honored by the Institute of Transportation Engineers

I love transportation and yesterday evening I took part in a very special banquet at UMass Amherst celebrating transportation!

The banquet was the culmination of a full day of transportation-related events organized by the nationally-recognized UMass Amherst Institute for Transportation Engineers (ITE) Student Chapter and included not only research presentations but even a Jeopardy-like competition among student teams from New England universities known as the Traffic Bowl (UConn won).

The banquet took place on the tenth floor of our Campus Center (see photos above). I had the distinct honor and privilege of being seated next to Peter H. Appel, the Administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) in Washington, DC.

His keynote speech was fantastic and at the dinner we were amazed at so many points of commonality between us from having spent time at MIT's Transportation Center to having a broad perspective on transportation and its importance to even having met one of the winners of Survivor, Yul Kwon, who had worked at the FCC, and who was my interviewer last week in NYC for a PBS production!

In his speech, he emphasized the strategic goals for transportation, beginning with safety, and including economic growth, infrastructure maintenance, and environmental sustainability. He talked about breaking down stovepipes and silos among federal transportation organizations from the FAA to the Federal Highway Administration. Mr. Appel emphasized the importance of all modes of transportation and the need to optimize across modes. He spoke of harnessing waterways for transportation, which we had not full done so.

He emphasized the role of optimization and the importance of operations research and maximizing investments in infrastructure and network design subject to limited constraints. He noted how different disciplines must work together to move transportation forward and how transportation will be an area of growing importance for the next coming decades.

His speech was very entertaining and he highlighted how there are "train people" (he had begun his career with Amtrak) as well as "aviation" folks, who, typically, work for the FAA (he had done that, too). I am married to a train person and his collection of model trains graces his office, our basement, etc.! When I asked Mr. Appel what his favorite mode of transportation is, he answered "transportation!"

Banquets at this time of the academic year begin the "award season," during which special recognitions are made. Last evening, students (past and present) were honored for their achievements and yours truly received the Jane F. Garvey Transportation Leadership Award. The award plaque was given to me by Mr. Appel (a double honor, I must say). I have written about Jane F. Garvey on this blog on several occasions and I will display the award in my Isenberg School of Management office so that my students can get inspiration from it. They are the ones who have made my life-long devotion to and fascination with transportation so intellectually enriching and so much fun!

Thanks to the UMass Amherst ITE Chapter for such a great day and evening. I wish you much continuing success with all of your activities! Special thanks to the chapter's amazing Faculty Advisor, Professor Mike Knodler, who was the Master of Ceremonies last night, and to Professor John Collura, the senior statesman of transportation in our Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who had actually invited Mr. Appel to speak at the banquet at the Transportation Research Board meeting in DC this past January, which many of us attended. It was great to see other transportation faculty at this even, including Professors Song Gao and Daiheng Ni. Even Professor Nathan Gartner of UMass Lowell was there and I teach about some of his contributions in my classes!