Career Spotlight: Transportation Engineering

 Image of a set of digital gears overlaid onto an image of a man. His hand is reaching for the gears.

Got an analytical mind? Like developing theories and solving problems? Then do yourself a favor and check out a career in transportation engineering.

Transportation engineers use their minds and imaginations to solve problems and create life-changing innovations. Even when they don't make headlines, the work they do affects each of us on a daily basis. Ever heard of Garrett Morgan? If not, you’re not alone. But you can guarantee the world wouldn’t be the same without him.

Morgan was born in 1877 in Claysville, Kentucky. Morgan received only a 6th grade education. But he had a brilliant mind and he cared about people. He learned about mechanical objects by repairing sewing machines for a clothing factory and soon became an inventor. One of his most famous inventions was a smoke protection hood. This device helped firefighters rescue people from burning buildings.

One evening, Morgan saw a terrible accident occur at a traffic intersection. The accident involved an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage. Back then, there weren't red, yellow, and green lights at intersections.

Morgan was so disturbed by this event, it is said, that he immediately got started on his next invention. Later that year, he received the first patent for a device that all of us are familiar with today. The device? The three-position traffic signal.

Today, because of his life-saving traffic device, Morgan is known as one of the forefathers of transportation engineering. Read the article about the new Garrett A. Morgan Technology and Transportation Education Program Clearinghouse in this issue of Fast Forward.

Nowadays, transportation engineering is an official college major. It offers a wide range of career options for people with many different skills and interests. Tyson Rupnow, for example, is a concrete engineer who works for a state department of transportation. He helps the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development save taxpayer dollars by designing roads that cost less to build and that last longer. Other transportation engineers might design bridges. Some study and try to prevent car accidents. Others work with technology. The options are pretty much endless—it all depends on your imagination and what interests you.

Image taken from our interview with Tyson Rupnow.

Click a button to watch an interview with Tyson Rupnow:

To learn more, check out Wikipedia’s informative article on transportation engineering. It might also be helpful to browse this and our earlier issues of Fast Forward. We’ve got tons of interviews with real-world transportation professionals and students, and their advice can help you learn more about getting started on a transportation engineering career path.

Remember: the most rewarding thing about transportation engineering is the fact that it changes people’s lives each and every day. Whether we take the bus to school, drive to work, or purchase a product that was shipped on a truck, we all rely on transportation. Whatever you choose—whether you want to work for a DOT like Tyson Rupnow does, become an employee of an engineering firm, or create a world-changing an invention like Garrett Morgan—you’ll find countless ways to change the world through transportation engineering.

Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 3 Number 1 - National Transportation Week