Student Endowment Fund: July/August

Tom MericleThe July-August Spotlight was written by Tom Mericle, who is an ITE Fellow and the City Transportation Manager for the City of Ventura. Tom is one of our newest Visionary level Endowment Fund contributors. The following are his thoughts on the Student Endowment Fund:

The ITE Student Endowment Fund (EF) was created to “provide a stable source of funding for the District’s Student Initiatives Program…with the objective of attracting the best and brightest to the transportation profession…” In my opinion, this may be the most important thing we do as a District. The future of the transportation profession depends upon a stable and continuing flow of new professionals who are excited and passionate in the career opportunities afforded by transportation engineering and transportation planning.

The first time I heard about the EF I wondered, “what the heck is that and why would I spend my hard earned money on it?” I have always been a supporter of the EF, but never to a great extent; $10 here, $20 there when at a conference and coerced by Jenny Grote or Cathy Leong to buy and wear an ITE tattoo, all for a good cause and good fun. The last couple of years or so I came to the realization that Zaki Mustafa’s “Together We Are The Best” campaign ties into the EF beautifully. Current professionals, many of whom have benefited greatly by ITE, more now than ever, need to come together to promote Transportation in our colleges and universities and show students how ITE is an integral part of not only being successful. We also need to show them how we need them to help us expand our understanding of how a new generation will utilize transportation in a completely different way than we did, or our parents did; they are our future. It was this realization that prompted me to get excited about contributing more.

I wanted to share my experience as an example of how ITE’s involvement with students can change at least one person’s life. It was through ITE as a student at Cal Poly, Pomona that I not only met two future employers, but realized transportation was something that brought out a passion in me. Not long after joining the student chapter and being elected student chapter president, I was offered an opportunity to work as a student intern at a consulting firm near where I lived. I already had a job with another firm that specialized in water/wastewater resources, but it was not close to school or home and I was offered more pay to go work in transportation. How could I pass that up? It totally changed my life. I worked with a dedicated and passionate group who were involved in the Southern California Section ITE; John Gillespie, Bill Janusz, Rich Deal, Barry Dee, Terry Rodrigue, and most of all Ed Cline. I learned more from these mentors than I could have ever imagined, and much of my career is based on the foundation they helped me lay. Not just the technical skills, the writing skills, and the collaboration skills, but the love of the profession, and the love of ITE as an organization. They encouraged me to go to ITE meetings and conferences. Ed used to even drive me to section meetings to make sure I got there. I, in turn, encouraged my fellow students to do the same. Now, more than 25 years later I am still involved in ITE and it has a lot to do with the experiences from that time.

I believe we are at a pivotal time in our profession; on the cusp of great changes in how we as professionals are re-defining what transportation is and what the purpose of transportation systems are in building better communities. The ITE organization should not be a follower in this change as we have sometimes tended to do, but leading it. If we get left behind, we are doomed as an organization and our boldest and brightest will go elsewhere to form professional and personal networks. Many ITE members across the age and experience range have become leaders in new transportation paradigms; smart growth, autonomous and connected vehicles, Vision Zero, expanding transportation modes, focusing on mobility rather than vehicle throughput, and most recently smarter cities. I am encouraged by this movement and the new International ITE leadership. The Student Endowment Fund provides the opportunity for the Western District to support our future leaders through it’s investment in them. It is in our best interest, and our responsibility as ITE members, to provide our students the best opportunity to succeed and carry on the ITE legacy of leading the transportation profession.

The Student Endowment fund’s goal is to reach $500,000 so that student initiative programs can have a consistent source of funding each year. This funding has already allowed the programs to no longer draw from the Western District’s general fund. The EF is close to that goal with slightly less than $35,000 to go. I encourage everyone to contribute and help be a part of our collective future.

Contributions to the Endowment Fund can be made at westernite.org/endowment-fund/endowment-fund-contribute/