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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - Spring 2020

Spring 2020
Issue No:
Vol. 84 No. 1
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Inspiring the Next Generation of Women to Join the Transportation Industry

The Federal Highway Administration and its partners recognize the importance of introducing women and girls to the career possibilities and opportunities of the transportation sector. The importance of that goal drives a variety of activities and outreach programs focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Kids in the Workplace

Every year, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration take part in Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. Various activities at USDOT Headquarters and at FHWA's Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) are a hit with kids.

On April 25, 2019, USDOT's Office of the Secretary hosted more than 600 children aged 8 to 18 and their parents for USDOT Headquarters' Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. The event featured more than 40 workshops and exhibits. Highlights included "The Drone Experience," where participants could learn to fly small consumer drones, and a booth where children could write about how they would improve the Nation's transportation sector.


TFHRC is using virtual reality to conduct human factors research in a safe, simulated environment. At Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, children got to see applications for this technology and experience the world in virtual reality.


In the TFHRC Hydraulics Lab, children used a sand table to build a river channel and then explore what happened to the water as the flow was altered or blocked by culverts and other structures.


Children and their parents participate in USDOT Headquarters' Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.


A USDOT employee shows a child how to operate a drone.


TFHRC engineers showed off an example concrete cylinder, explaining that concrete gets its strength because sand and aggregate are glued together with cement. Then, the kids got to see this principle in action with a delicious mix of "concrete" made from baker's chocolate as the cement and chocolate puff cereal as aggregate. It took double the load to crush the chocolate mixture as it took to crush the cereal alone.


As part of the TFHRC event, students got the chance to apply chemistry to analyze the components of various roadway materials. Here, they prepare to identify different metal ions in a solution.


Visiting students had a chance to interact with the TFHRC Hydraulics Lab's robotic arm. The Hydraulics Lab has been researching the use of mobile robotics to improve and automate testing of highway hydraulics phenomena.


The TFHRC also hosts a popular Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day event, sharing science and technology principles—and innovations—with schoolchildren of all ages. In the TFHRC labs, kids get a chance to see how a broad range of science and engineering disciplines are applied to highway research. Previous demonstrations have included seeing the science behind how road signs and road marking materials show up so well at night in the Chemistry Laboratory and the ways FHWA is making roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists in the Human Factors Laboratory. In 2019, kids even got to see a crash test at the center's Federal Outdoor Impact Laboratory, where FHWA scientists are experimenting with roadside barriers and guardrails.

Transportation YOU in DC and VA

WTS International (formerly Women's Transportation Seminar) runs Transportation YOU, a hands-on, interactive mentoring program that offers girls ages 13 to 18 an introduction to a wide variety of transportation careers. Through the program, WTS chapters work to make a difference in the lives of young women by offering programs and activities that will spark their interest in all modes of transportation. The program encourages young women to take courses in math, science, and technology, the stepping stones to exciting careers that can change the face of the transportation industry.


Cathy McGhee, director of research and innovation for the Virginia Department of Transportation, works with students using a small coding robot to simulate automated vehicle technology.


Jasmy Methipara, of FHWA's Office of Transportation Policy Studies, has served the Washington, DC, chapter of WTS as the chair of the chapter's Transportation YOU committee since 2014, working with the young women of the Cardozo Education Campus (formerly Cardozo High School), McKinley Technology High School, and Dunbar High School. The committee of transportation professionals develops monthly youth mentoring events, including spotlight speakers, field trips, and in-class transportation activities for a select group of young women from these schools. The events focus on STEM education, college readiness, and career opportunities in transportation. Spotlight speakers have included engineers, planners, flight attendants, and public engagement professionals. Each spring, Methipara's team hosts a speed mentoring event where students can exchange business cards with a multitude of professionals.

Since 2011, the Central Virginia Chapter of WTS has held a hands-on mentoring workshop for middle school girls. Each year, about 35 students from nearly a dozen schools come together for a day filled with hands-on STEAM (which adds the arts into the traditional STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math) activities and opportunities to network with women in a variety of transportation careers. Several FHWA Virginia Division employees are active WTS members and are key participants in planning and coordinating the workshop. Event organizers use a variety of STEM lesson plan resources with creative twists to come up with fun and engaging activities, including solving puzzles in an escape room, programming dynamic message signs, and analyzing bridge designs.


A workshop presenter for the Central Virginia Chapter of WTS demonstrates the features of an electric vehicle.


Students and professionals participate in a Transportation YOU speed mentoring event in Washington, DC. WTS.


Helping Girls Become Tech Savvy in Michigan

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) advances equity and education for women and girls nationwide. In Michigan, AAUW's Gaylord Area Branch hosts an annual Tech Savvy event, a 1-day conference designed to introduce girls in grades 6 through 9 to STEM studies and careers. Brandy Solak, an area engineer with FHWA's Michigan Division, coordinates volunteers for the event held each April at the University Center in Gaylord, MI. The event hosts approximately 200 girls annually, inspiring and enabling them to explore exciting opportunities through hands-on workshops.


Tech Savvy attendees don protective gloves and eyewear while creating a chemical reaction at a Tech Savvy booth.


For more information, visit


Tech Savvy students learn about fingerprints and how they are used as identification.


AASHTO Encourages Women in Transportation

The transportation workforce faces a pressing problem: a critical shortage of women in civil engineering and the transportation profession as a whole. To help address this issue, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials offers the TRAC™ (Transportation and Civil Engineering) and RIDES (Roadways In Developing Elementary Students) programs, which aim to inspire students of all ages to consider careers in transportation. The programs engage students in solving real-world transportation problems with innovative solutions by designing bridges, building magnetic-levitation trains, planning cities, and overcoming a host of environmental issues that impact transportation.

AASHTO's National Bridge Challenge, an extension of the TRAC program's bridge module, promotes an interest in STEM for girls and boys in grades 7 through 12. Students in this competition travel to the AASHTO spring meeting each year, where their bridges are tested and evaluated by State department of transportation engineers. Girls are encouraged to participate in the challenge; in 2019, an all-girl team from Michigan took first place in the 7th and 8th grade division.

For more information, visit


Students participate in AASHTO's National Bridge Challenge, part of the TRAC program. The bridge designs are evaluated by professional engineers.


Building Virginia's Transportation Workforce of Tomorrow

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) understands the importance of encouraging the future workforce. As part of its efforts, the VDOT Northern Virginia District's Civil Rights Division hosts an annual Transportation Career Fair for high school students, providing educational and networking opportunities. In 2019, the 15th annual fair included more than 100 engineering firms, organizations, agencies, and contractors from across Virginia. Approximately 1,300 high school students attended to learn about careers in civil engineering, architecture, technology, construction, environment, administration, and other transportation-related fields.


Ashlei Davis pitches her idea for a product aimed at reducing tailpipe emissions.


Student Ashlei Davis won first place in the business plan competition.


"The transportation industry has so many opportunities for careers following various paths," says Leslie Martin, the civil rights manager for VDOT Northern Virginia. "It's so rewarding when we find a new employee within the industry who came to know us through the career fairs in the past."

For more information, visit


A student uses survey equipment during VDOT's Transportation Career Fair.


North Carolina Hosts All-Girls Session of NSTI

The National Summer Transportation Institute (NSTI) is a transportation-focused career awareness initiative funded by FHWA's On-the-Job Training Support Services Program. NSTI aims to stimulate interest among middle and high school students in educational and career opportunities in transportation and related industries. The program encourages minority, female, and disadvantaged youth to pursue transportation-related coursework at the college and university level.


WSSU's NSTI program partnered with the university's GEMS program to run an all-girls session for 25 students in 2019.


NSTI is open to all students in the United States and its territories. Since its inception in 1991, NSTI has contributed $80 million in funding to more than 60 accredited colleges and universities in 56 States and U.S. territories. To date, more than 25,000 students have participated—some even continue into other USDOT and FHWA internship, fellowship, and professional development programs.


Students visit the Battleship North Carolina museum in Wilmington, NC, during WSSU's 2019 NSTI program.


In 2019, one of NSTI's hosting sites, Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) in North Carolina, took its program to another level. The university hosted an all-girls program with 25 students from Forsyth County, NC, schools. To develop this special session, the NSTI program partnered with WSSU's Girls Empowered in Math and Science (GEMS) program, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2019. GEMS aims to provide girls with the academic foundation and fortitude to be successful in any STEM environment, academic or professional. In 2018, GEMS received the Inspiring Programs in STEM Award from INSIGHT into Diversity magazine, which honors colleges and universities that encourage and assist students from underrepresented groups to enter STEM-related fields.


A student in WSSU's all-girls NSTI program learns how to remove the lug nuts from a tire.