Takeaways from the Future Leaders Development Conference: Perspectives from 2019 Alumni
July 31, 2019|Christopher Oster
June 14, 2019
(2019 LDC Fellows Pedro Adorno Maldonado, April Gadsby, Jeremy Halpern, De’Von Jennings, Jessica Lazarus, Nicole McGrath, Krishna Murthy Gurumurthy, and Corrie Parish contributed to the writing and content of the article.)
For over 27 years, the Eno Center for Transportation has invited twenty select graduate students from around the country each summer to participate as Fellows in the Future Leaders Development Conference (LDC). This year I was honored to be one of those twenty fellows. LDC gives the Fellows an insider perspective of how transportation policy is crafted, hearing from industry stakeholders as well as federal, state, and local officials through a series of panels during a whirlwind five days. This year, our week culminated at the Eno Leadership Awards Reception, held in the Historic Terminal A at Reagan National Airport.
The experience of being an LDC Fellow is truly unique. The week started with myself and nineteen strangers, though by the end I was humbled to call them my friends. I reached out to my new colleagues for their input in writing this article, asking them to share their reflections on what the week meant to them. Despite matriculating from many backgrounds and having different interests in the transportation field, our takeaways from the week were remarkably similar.
Policy, Actors, and Influence
Despite our technical and research expertise, as a group we had collectively very little tangible experience in the mechanics of creating transportation policy. During our initial meeting, we shared what we hoped to learn during the week and policy crafting was on all of our lists. LDC afforded us the opportunity to fulfill this learning goal and more.
As Jessica Lazarus (University of California, Berkeley) describes it, “LDC was truly an immersive experience – for four days we had the great honor to engage in substantive, fairly candid conversations with transportation professionals at the top of the field, in touch with the pulse of Washington. Amongst the many profound lessons we learned was appreciating the vast number of perspectives and unique roles in which individuals can make an impact on transportation in the United States.”
For April Gadsby (Georgia Tech) the panels gave an interesting perspective on the dynamics of power structures. “We learned a lot about how the structures in place, especially the funding structures, at the federal level trickle down to influence all areas of transportation and different agencies’ interactions with each other. We believe this insight will help us do research that can be impactful because of an expanded understanding of how the system can be influenced.”
Career Paths and Leadership
LDC gave us unprecedented access to transportation leaders and their valuable insights. Their candid reflections into their own career paths, struggles, and triumphs resonated with many of the fellows, and we came to realize that the early experiences of these transportation titans were not so unlike their own. As Corrie Parish (University of Oregon) put it, LDC “not only gave me a comprehensive introduction to different actors in the transportation sector and their role in policy making, the panelists also built my confidence as a young professional.”
De’Von Jennings (University of California, Irvine) appreciated the panelists perspective on their career paths. “I learned that your career path does not always have to be linear.” Meandering routes were commonplace for many of the panelists. Opportunities can haphazardly appear and if a chance prospect appear before you, and it is something you truly want, do not hesitate in your pursuit.
For many of us, the defining panel was a wide ranging conversation with the Eno Board of Directors. This was certainly the case for Krishna Murthy Gurumurthy (University of Texas at Austin). “The highlight of the conference was meeting the Eno Board, full of accomplished industry leaders. My peers and I made sure to glean how we, aspiring individuals in graduate school, could one day be sitting in their seats. Conversations oscillated between leadership, policy, the imposter syndrome, how to maintain a work-life balance, and stepping into the industry inexperienced. Overall, I am confident that every Eno Fellow had a substantial takeaway from this leadership session.”
The goal of LDC was to give all twenty fellows a robust primer on how transportation policy is made, and network for future careers in the transportation sector. While we all left having fulfilled that purpose, we came away with something, that in our eyes, was more valuable, the foundation of friendships rooted in a common purpose of transportation equity. As my colleague Jeremy Halpern (University of California, Berkeley) described it, “While the organizers intended to have one session devoted to transportation equity, it ended up threading throughout our discussions during the week. I think it speaks to what our cohort as a whole, values and prioritizes. I look forward to seeing how we operationalize these values going forward.”
With this common value, it was remarkable to see how closely twenty strangers became in a matter of days. For Pedro Adorno Maldonado (University of Florida), optimism for the future abounds as “the outstanding team of twenty distinguished graduate students resulted in a diverse combination of professionalism and friendship that will pave the way for future collaborations and changes in the future of transportation policy and technologies.”
We close with one final message, LDC is transformative and an unprecedented career and professional development opportunity. Nicole McGrath (University of Texas at Austin) sums it nicely, “My experience at the LDC really re-invigorated my passion for transportation policy. The sessions covered all aspects of transportation and it was heartening that so many of the discussions focused on climate change and social equity as related to transportation. Not only was it inspirational to hear from current leaders and policymakers, but it was an honor to spend a week with the rest of the LDC fellows. After hearing their research and insightful questions, I’m positive that the future of this industry is in good hands.”
If you are a student, apply for the 2020 cohort. It will be amongst the best decisions of your graduate studies. If you are an adviser or mentor, encourage a student to apply, they will be eternally grateful.
If you want to learn more about how you can support the program, contact Karen Price at email@example.com
To read the recap of the 2019 Leadership Development Conference from this week’s ETW, click here