PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian is passionate about engaging the next generation of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) leaders. As part of that commitment, Secretary Gramian is bringing her Moving Forward With STEM event series to academic institutions across Pennsylvania to spark discussion about how current and future leaders can collaborate to reimagine transportation, introduce safety innovations, and increase diversity and equity in transportation, government, and STEM fields.
Most recently, Secretary Gramian and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) convened a panel alongside Aurora Senior Manager of Government Relations Matt Blackburn, Pittsburgh Technology Council CEO Audrey Russo, CMU Robotics Institute Global Programs Manager Rachel Burcin, and Community College of Allegheny County Skilled Trades Department Chair and Automotive Ford Asset program professor Robert Koch, moderated by PennDOT District 11 Executive Director Cheryl Moon-Sirianni.
The event kicked off with an introduction from Stan Caldwell, Executive Director of the Traffic21 Institute, and the Mobility21 National University Transportation Center, both housed at CMU. Caldwell reminded the audience of CMU's long history in AV education and research, and said, "Access to STEM education is core to preparing the future workforce for new and emerging technologies, including AV technology.
The panelists were then introduced by Hajra Shahab, a 2020 - 2022 Traffic21 Women in Transportation Fellow and President of CMU's Transportation Club. The lively and informative conversation was highlighted by the panelists sharing their views on the importance of STEM, cultivating the next generation of transportation industry workers, and Pittsburgh's leading role in the transportation revolution through higher education institutions and transportation-related technology companies.
During the discussion, Secretary Gramian reminded the audience that as a public agency, PennDOT is not focused on research and development of advanced transportation innovations – but rather, working with the private sector to prioritize which innovations require state and federal support and manage collaboration.
"PennDOT must balance the public interest with the private sector's investment, stepping in at all phases of the process to provide proper guidance and regulations to keep the public safe. The government invests in technology in the pursuit of the public interest at-large," said Secretary Gramian.
Additionally, the panel discussed ways to increase diversity and equity in STEM and the transportation workforce – a topic that Secretary Gramian has prioritized. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women are still vastly underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Despite making gains since the 1970s, women accounted for only 27% of the STEM workforce in 2019.
Secretary Gramian shared that she was the first female in her family to become an engineer; as a student and young professional in the 1980s, there were few educational and professional development opportunities for female engineers. Because of her experiences, Secretary Gramian committed to engaging with students and young professionals throughout Pennsylvania to help encourage more women and people of color to pursue and excel in STEM careers.
Stay tuned as Secretary Gramian continues this series of conversations with academic institutions and other stakeholders about the work being done right here in Pennsylvania to reimagine our transportation future. You can watch a video recording of the CMU session on YouTube, featured below.