Women In Research: Dr. Kelly Regal
Women are at the forefront of innovation at the Federal Highway Administration's Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC). From engineering to analysis, women fill key roles across the TFHRC, including senior leadership. In January 2020, Dr. Kelly Regal joined TFHRC as the new Associate Administrator for Research, Development, and Technology, becoming the first woman to lead the center in its 70-year history.
Dr. Regal's career path exemplifies the curiosity and perseverance that TFHRC's women rely on to develop the latest in highway innovation. Initially, Dr. Regal went to college to study accounting. However, taking a few computer science electives opened her eyes to new possibilities; she discovered that she loved the new and exciting field of computer science and decided to change her major.
Dr. Regal had many mentors growing up, but the one who had the most significant impact on her career trajectory was her mother, who encouraged Dr. Regal to pursue a Federal career. Thanks to this encouragement, Dr. Regal joined the Federal workforce as a computer scientist at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Technical Center in Atlantic City, NJ, where she held several positions of increasing responsibility. Her most rewarding and challenging assignment was with the Aviation Security Research and Development Laboratory, where she oversaw the development of a software tool to assess the effects of explosions against civil aviation facilities and their occupants. In the aftermath of 9/11, the Department of Defense used this same tool to strengthen their facilities overseas.
After her time with the FAA, Dr. Regal continued her Federal career while pursuing her passion for research and technology, most recently as the Associate Administrator for Research and Information Technology at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Dr. Regal describes her choice to join FHWA as a dream come true: "The research that's done at the TFHRC and the innovations that are developed here impact safety in a very positive way. We need to look at what more we can do so that we don't have over 37,000 deaths on the highway. That's why I'm here. I'm in the twilight of my career. There's probably no better position to be in, in the twilight of your career, than a fabulous place like this, where I can directly contribute to transportation advancements and also serve as a role model to the next generation of women in transportation."
When reflecting on her career journey, Dr. Regal offers the following advice for women considering careers in transportation: "There probably isn't any other career that is as multidisciplinary as transportation. That's why my entire career has been in transportation and I enjoy it so much. Transportation is engineers, researchers, computer scientists, financial experts, economists, and transportation specialists. Any discipline you can think of, there's some need for it in transportation. My career advice to anybody is just find something that you like and be good at it. If you want a career in transportation, there's a fit for you."
LISA A. SHULER is the team director for marketing and communications at the TFHRC. For more on Dr. Regal, see Along the Road on page 47 of this issue.