Diversity and Inclusion are Active Pursuits

By: Cathy Leong and the University of California Berkeley Student Chapter

I attended the International Board of Direction (IBOD) meeting this past May where one of the topics of discussion was diversity and inclusion within ITE. The International Director sitting next to me during this discussion commented that she had attended the Student Leadership Summit (SLS) at the University of California Berkeley in January and that every meeting should be as diverse as that SLS. I had also attended the SLS in UC Berkeley and concurred with her sentiment.  So what was the UC Berkeley student chapter doing to ensure a more diverse and inclusive membership? Before turning this over to the student chapter to share their accomplishments, let’s first discuss what we mean by “diverse and inclusive.” Are we talking about gender, race, or discipline?  In the case of the UC Berkeley student chapter (who refers to themselves as “Cal ITE”), the answer is all of the above. A quick glance at their student chapter photo reveals a diverse blend of students of both genders and varying backgrounds. A more in-depth look is necessary to see how they have also actively promoted inclusiveness of students from other disciplines.

UC Berkeley Student Chapter

Cal ITE’s success and member engagement is driven first and foremost by not only its commitment to, but its celebration of diversity within our organization. We strive to foster a diverse community, as we believe the differences in perspective can help make each of us better students, members of society, and future transportation professionals. We hope to give any student the skills, opportunities, and connections to pursue their interests in transportation, utilizing the benefits and resources that the greater organization of ITE has to offer. Through this article, we hope to encourage other members of ITE to prioritize and foster diversity within the organization, while highlighting some of our members who have benefitted from our inclusionary efforts.

Cal ITE makes a conscious effort to connect with students outside of the traditional fields of transportation engineering. We have a number of partnerships with other organizations that have led to co-hosted events that attract all students from all disciplines that are interested in transportation. Our events with a mix of researchers, graduate students, undergraduate students, and professionals provide our members an opportunity to see the array of options ITE has for young transportation enthusiasts. By strengthening our links to outside organizations, we inspire our members to be innovative and well-rounded, as well as engage with the greater ITE network to stay updated and connected to professionals in the industry.

In addition to partnerships, we further our inclusionary efforts by engaging in programs that provide experiences and training that are in high demand by college aged students. By providing access to these type of experiences we can appeal to a wider array of students who may not have engaged with ITE otherwise. The opportunities we provide through this venue ensures that our members are equipped with as much knowledge and practical skills as possible to give them the best chance at getting into their desired aspect of the field of transportation. An example of this is our partnership with the Cal Transportation Team, where Cal ITE members are given the opportunity to work on a project similar to what real transportation professionals do everyday. In addition, our members are offered AutoCAD and Synchro workshops, as well as guest presentations from professionals in both the private and public sector, and researchers throughout the year. Participation with this team also provides opportunities for our diverse members to come together and share their specialized skills in a collaborative effort.

Hannah Kim

Hannah Kim is an example of the success we have had recruiting and retaining students from other disciplines.  Hannah is an Industrial Engineering and Operations Research student who may not have engaged with ITE under more traditional circumstances that served as the Cal Transportation Team’s Operations Lead last year. She says that the team gave her an opportunity to apply an optimization mindset in a context outside of industrial engineering, and allowed her to see the difference between application and theory when it comes to operations in traffic optimization. Students like Hannah are able to explore the many possibilities transportation has to offer, while sharing their knowledge with other members.

Blair Zhang

Another example of the success of our efforts is Blair Zhang, a Data Science and Urban Studies student, who is currently serving as one of our officers.  Blair says that Cal ITE guided him into the field of transportation and that our partnership with the Cal Transportation Team helped him gain the experience he needed to be confident in his choice to pursue transportation as a profession. Prior to his experiences with Cal ITE, Blair had only been contemplating different fields of planning.  However, he has since been provided with opportunities to engage with aspects of transportation that aren’t just pure engineering, such as data collection and graphic design. As a result, he has gone from “debating between different fields of planning” to “now transportation is definitely one of my most interested fields, if not the only thing I’ll do.” Blair’s story is not only a change in mindset, but he is well on his way to joining the ITE community of professionals as a Transit Planner intern at SFMTA this summer.

Nicholette Tolmie

Our final example is Nicholette Tolmie, an Urban Studies student, who has completely changed her academic and career paths due to her engagement with ITE. During her two years with Cal ITE she has seen racial and academic diversity, as well as marveled at the number of female members and female leadership within the organization. Nicholette notes that her observation at a previous SLS she attended was that Cal ITE has a better gender balance than some other schools she encountered. Cal ITE boasts a group with slightly more women than men and have been led in recent years by great officers like Marissa Milam and Amy Huang. Nicholette said that she has been able to grow so much under their leadership and that ITE has also provided her opportunities to work with amazing women mentors in the professional world like those at her transportation engineering internship this summer. “Coming from the small island of American Samoa, Cal ITE helped present the possibilities I didn’t know even existed in transportation.” Nicholette has since decided to write a transportation-focused thesis, and is considering pursuing an advanced degree in transportation engineering.

These three students are only a small sample of the success we have had in attracting students from diverse backgrounds.  However, we believe our success as a student chapter rests not only on our ability to attract new students, but also on our ability to retain them within our organization. Our responsiveness to member interests has allowed Cal ITE to retain students who see their interests as validated and supported. We recognize that no organization is perfect, and that the best way to stay engaged and focused is through constant and honest communication within our chapter. Aside from being engineers, planners, scientists, or students, we are a family who continues to encourage each other in our transportation endeavors, and our different paths that we choose to take. Diversity and inclusion are fundamental to our chapter and we continue to explore new ways that we can diversify our student membership. 

The article written by Cal ITE demonstrates that diversity and inclusion are active pursuits. We cannot sit back and wait passively for our organization to change, but must take steps to reach out and welcome all people with an interest in transportation. As they said in their article, they hope that their example will “encourage other members of ITE to prioritize and foster diversity within the organization” because “differences in perspective can help make each of us better students, members of society, and future transportation professionals.”