Howard University was recently chosen to lead a Tier-1 Transportation Center for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), prompting a $10 million grant from the government organization.
As a Tier-1 Transportation Center, Howard will assist the government with issues such as travel safety and the future of efficient transportation. The Center will operate alongside the existing Howard University Transportation Research and Data Center (HUTRC), which is located in the Lewis K. Downing (LKD) Hall that houses the College of Engineering and Architecture and was established in 1998.
The historic move by the DOT is part of the larger initiative by the Biden Administration to engage and empower HBCUs in the University Transportation Center (UTC) program, which was first established in 1987. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited Howard’s campus to celebrate the announcement.
“This year’s announcement represents the most diverse cohort of UTCs we’ve ever had. Having an institution and a storied HBCU like Howard in the lead at that level, I think sends a powerful message, both to the academic community and to the country about how an HBCU can lead such an important consortium and deliver some of those results that are gonna help shape transport,” Buttigieg said.
He also discussed the professional opportunities that can arise for students to potentially benefit from the center.
“Another advantage of being part of the UTC program is that the students who are here will be involved in some of the real-world work that is being funded by the federal government in order to support our efforts. So, it creates an extra opportunity for students who hope or expect to have a future in transportation, to have their hands on important federally funded work very early in their careers,” Buttigieg said.
“We not only hope to see a generation of transportation leaders thriving here but selfishly are looking for talent to bring into the Department, too. It’s hard to think of a better preparation at the undergraduate level to have to maybe come and serve in the U.S. DOT than being involved in some of this research at the ground level,” he continued.
HBCUs, Prairie View A&M University, Morgan State University, North Carolina A&T State University and Florida A&M University also received funding.
Buttigieg gave remarks alongside University President Wayne A.I. Frederick and Dr. Stephen Arhin, the director of HUTRC who will also serve as director for the new Tier-1 Center, at an event announcing the grant last Tuesday in LKD.
Additionally, U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a senior member of the Transportation Infrastructure Committee and native Washingtonian, participated in a tour of the HUTRC and released a statement expressing how proud she was of the announcement.
In his remarks, Buttigieg acknowledged the need of addressing racial disparities in transportation and road safety.
“Every year, around 40 thousand people lose their lives on roads…They are disproportionately people of color, people living in low-income communities, people living in rural communities. That national crisis demands that we reject the idea that this is just the cost of doing business. These deaths are preventable. That is at the core of our National roadway safety strategy. I am excited about the work we can do together to accomplish that challenge,” he said.
During the tour, Howard students and employees of HUTRC were able to present some of the research equipment and work done in the Center to Buttigieg. One of those presentations was from DeQuane Nealy, a junior electrical engineering student who talked about the work of the Howard chapter of the Engineering Ambassadors Network.
Nealy serves as the Outreach Chair for the chapter, and their work as a community service organization is to teach and train K-12 students in engineering. Nealy says that being able to highlight the organization to the Secretary “meant a lot.”
“Being a smaller org, especially within CEA…orgs such as Engineering Ambassadors without as many members or as much funding as other orgs typically get left behind. So, to be able to be on this platform to talk with the Secretary, I think can give Engineering Ambassadors, not only this chapter, but other chapters across the nation a bigger platform to hopefully expand their reach and further engage with students,” Nealy said.
Arhin says the new partnership opportunities will finally give HUTRC much deserved “recognition” after years of service and research. HUTRC had previously been a partner with San Jose State University, who had a Tier-1 Center, and Arhin says that influenced them to finally apply to become a Tier-1 Center on their own.
“If you are a partner and not the lead, you have no leverage…Basically, their agenda is what we had to follow,” Arhin said.
“But after doing this for almost 12 years, I felt like this is not the time to be in the background. We want to put ourselves on the map as well and have others collaborate with us like we have been doing for the last 12 years. I thought ‘Hey, we have come a long way…We’ve been helping others shine. I think this is the time for us to also take the opportunity to shine as a university,’” he continued.
Arhin says that the kickoff for the new Tier-1 Center will potentially be the first week of June and that the hope is that they will be provided additional space to be dedicated to the new Center, exclusively.
Talking about the use of the $10 million funds, Arhin says they will be used to support students and the ongoing research efforts.
“The funding that we are going to get is going to support our students. All the undergraduate students who work under this particular research Tier-1 program will have the opportunity to get tuition and stipends…Almost everyone at this institution needs some support one way or another for them to go through school, and that is what those funds will be for.”
Arhin says those benefits are not just for engineering students but students across various majors who will support the programs they are involved with. He also says it will also be used for research equipment they will need.
Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman