Want to impact societal issues and change the world? According to experts, a transportation career is a great way to go.
In the modern world, careers in the transportation industry are no longer just about getting people and goods from point A to B. Today, transportation professionals solve complex problems like cutting global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, unclogging congested city streets, and reducing traffic-related deaths. These are issues that will only become more significant as the population grows larger and transportation needs increase.
Susan Shaheen, who co-directs the Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) at the University of California, Berkley, described an ideal vision of a today’s young transportation professional.
“They’re multidisciplinary. They’re curious. And they’re really interested in the future,” she said in an interview with Fast Forward. “What we need…to solve today’s problems—in light of climate change and globalization and changes in how people are living—is a wide, diverse array of talents.”
Susan said she teaches a transportation sustainability course at Berkley. In the course, her students are introduced to some of the many issues and challenges facing transportation today.
She described transportation sustainability as “everything from the science of climate change to a whole wide range of solutions we can use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled, ranging from automated vehicles to the use of your smart phone and apps to find ways of getting around other than relying on the private auto.”
With so many challenges to tackle, creative students can find a wide variety of career options in transportation. This could include developing new technologies, influencing laws or public policy, or even introducing completely new ideas. At the TSRC, Susan and her colleagues spend their time attempting to identify and solve transportation issues. For example, Susan has been a long-time champion of vehicle sharing programs that can ultimately reduce the number of cars on the road.
“Sharing for us is things like carpooling and vanpooling … and now we have higher tech solutions like bike sharing, where people share a fleet of bikes. Or we have what we call ride-sourcing companies that use a platform on a smartphone app to get you a ride from point A to point B. You might know those as Uber or Lyft,” she said.
According to Susan, one of the perks of being a transportation researcher is working side-by-side with businesses and lawmakers to see her work come to life. “One of the really fun parts of my job is we get to envision new futures, and to create new products and technologies and put them on the ground and see people use them for the very first time.”
Students who get involved in the transportation field will have a similar chance to make a positive impact on the society around them. “Think about the future that you want to live in, and help to actually build it,” she said.
Check out the TSRC website to learn more about some of the projects Susan works on as a transportation researcher. Then think about what changes you would make to improve the transportation system. As a transportation researcher, you might be able to see those ideas come to life!