Student Endowment Fund: March/April

After the District Annual Meeting in Las Vegas last summer, the Student Endowment Fund reached $440,000, and we are now launching our “Close the Gap” campaign to reach our ultimate fundraising goal of $500,000 by this summer! The Endowment Fund was founded in 2004 to provide a continuous and stable source of funding for the District’s Student Initiatives Program. Each year, the Western District invests over $15,000 in student programs, awards, and initiatives. This Spring, the Western District leaders have issued a challenge to each of the Section and Chapter Presidents to help close the gap in the Endowment Fund, and in turn, a number of Presidents are also prepared to kick off campaigns of their own to challenge their members to aid in this effort. We are getting so close to our goal, so every contribution matters, no matter how big or small.

The March-April Spotlight was written by Zaki Mustafa, who initiated the Endowment Fund when he was President of the Western District. The following are his thoughts on the Student Endowment Fund:

20160304 Zaki MustafaIt is hard to believe that when we established our Western District Endowment fund with a goal of $500,000 that we would get so close to reaching our goal within 11 years. We are so close to reaching our goal that our current president Cathy Leong would like to close the gap this year. Our president Cathy, while she served as our Endowment Fund Chair had done an outstanding job in moving the campaign forward, and Kimberly, our current chair, will help in closing the gap. However, we need your help and support to accomplish this goal.

The Student Endowment Fund was established to ensure that our profession prospers and thrives with new energy and vitality. This will allow us to deliver new and innovative services and solutions promoted from our organization. 31 years ago when I got involved in this profession I was very excited to see that what we do in the office or out in the field has a direct impact on the transportation infrastructure. Individuals within our profession can see the results of the projects we work delivered in relatively a short period of time. And yet we are not known for the creative solutions that we are developing every day.

As an organization, we need to do a better job of promoting our profession and ensuring that that we are reaching out to incoming professionals so that we are attracting innovators. By purposely aligning our words and actions and attracting and developing the creative new talent, our profession can be seen as the ones that are solving our transportation related problems. Through out of the box thinking, collaborating with others, and promoting multi-modal solutions, we can enhance our reputation to solve today’s challenges. We have direct influence on the transportation system. What I have seen over the years is that at times we are not flexible and in some cases become so ridged that we tend to see only in black and white. While we need to understand the black and white, true transportation professionals today need to be able to operate within the gray. This requires listening to today’s needs and wants within our communities and utilizing engineering judgment and design flexibility to find a way to yes.

Ever look at many of the leadership positions held in Transportation Engineering Departments throughout the nation? They are not always led by engineers! We can get frustrated or we can seek to understand the attributes and characteristics that they are looking for in these leadership positions and start attracting and developing them within our engineering disciplines.

We need to be better listeners and more flexible. We need to collaborate with and learn from other disciplines, and most importantly, we always need to be sought as part of the solution (rather than an obstacle). We need to be out of the box thinkers and come to the table with various solutions to the challenges that our elected officials and communities are facing. The old days when we were solely focused on vehicle travel and efficiency have changed. We need to work closely with our partners in making the roads more accessible and welcoming to people that walk and bike. People after all create the value on our streets and communities. As a result, we have to be creative with our designs that assure a true balance of people walking, biking, driving, and using transit. We also need to work, with a sense of urgency, to reduce the number of fatalities and severe injuries that are occurring everyday on our roadway. Safety should be one of our top emphasis. And we know that speed and design of our roadways have a direct correlation with safety. As we become more creative with our designs, we need to think of ways to make our roadway safer for all users of the roadway, especially the more vulnerable users that walk or bike.

In order for us to ensure that our incoming professionals (students) are adequately being trained, they need to participate in our professional activities. We need to support them so that they can learn from us and we can learn from them. As Steve Jobs, a creative leader, said “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do”. Our students will bring new ideas and solutions and we have to be careful not to squash their ideas as they could be the solutions for today’s challenges. While they have to understand the history of our profession, they also need to be standard creators helping us create the future of our profession. Our Endowment supports our faculty advisors and 38 student chapters in our District (over 688 Students AKA future colleagues). We need to ensure that we are able to support them financially so the students are able to attend our annual meetings to learn from us and also for us to learn from them. One of the easiest ways to learn about the latest design standards and practices is through attending our District Annual meetings where we can learn from others how we can be more relevant to the industry.

I know all of our sections and chapters have done outstanding work in supporting our students and Endowment Fund. Almost all of our sections have some type of fundraising events for their student programs and are contributing generously. Great examples include the Southern California Section that gave over $12,000 last year on the student paper competition or the San Bernardino Riverside Section with almost $7,000 for their student chapters. I am making a personal request to all of the section and chapter leaders that you once again make a big push by considering all of our students in our District. I know it is a lot to ask for and just ask that you think about our future as a profession and how you can support all of our students, not just your section or chapter students. I will be reaching out to all of our section and chapter presidents to get your support in closing our Endowment Fund by raising $50,000 this year for our students.

I have a goal to make our profession relevant to the people and communities we serve. It will require us to be more nimble to ensure that we are needed in our communities and profession. It is an exciting time to influence the future of our transportation profession.

Together we are the Best. Thank you for your consideration.

Contributions to the Endowment Fund can be made at