Introducing: National Transportation Week

Focus your attention in the classroom to recognize the importance of our nation's transportation systems.

By Erin Bailey


traffic jam photo

You see it all around you – snarled lanes of traffic stopped in all directions as commuters struggle to reach their jobs; frazzled airline passengers stuck on a runway, certain to miss their connection; disgruntled urban dwellers packed onto train cars. It’s obvious: the nation has a transportation problem. To address the issues, fresh thinking and innovative designs will be required. Unfortunately, the transportation industry has had a difficult time recruiting recent graduates who can solve the challenges associated with moving the nation’s people and products.

A Practical Beginning

National Transportation Week had its roots in Houston, Texas when an educational scholarship was set up for women majoring in transportation subjects. No one applied that first year because the University of Houston reported that, “they had not been able to interest anyone in becoming a truck driver or policeman.” To draw attention to the nation’s transportation industry, the Women’s Transportation Club of Houston observed the first Transportation Week in 1953. President John F. Kennedy declared a permanent date in 1962. The goal of National Transportation Week, which will be celebrated May 14- 20, is to broaden the perception of careers in transportation and spark interest in this rapidly-evolving field.

Transportation’s Connection to STEM

Due to the rising cost of energy, and the impact of urban sprawl on the nation’s infrastructure, transportation issues are more relevant than ever. The anticipated number of airline passengers for the month of July is seventy million.  In 2011, Americans drove 1.7 billion miles and used surface freight to deliver nearly a trillion dollars worth of goods. Undoubtedly, infrastructure and the people behind it are vital to the nation’s economy

Currently, job opportunities in transportation fields outnumber the applicants. To change this, National Transportation Week makes a concerted effort to draw attention to the field through various programs aimed at students. The biggest effort of the Federal Highway Association connects STEM development and transportation career exploration through the Garrett A. Morgan Technology and Transportation Education Program

Garrett Morgan was an entrepreneur and inventor whose achievements include the first hair straightening ointment, the gas mask, and a manual traffic signal. The program named in his honor seeks to improve the preparation of students through STEM-related curriculum development via grants. Even without a grant, schools can do much to incorporate the kind of creative problem solving needed to tackle the issues that America’s transportation industry currently faces. 

Earlier Career Exploration is Needed

From a very early age, kids can be made aware of how their lives are affected by transportation issues. Many children may recognize the challenges associated with getting from one place to another in their own cities. Ask them to suggest solutions to traffic congestion or a lack of infrastructure. Elementary students can build replicas of their cities with milk cartons and small boxes. Then they can implement design changes that they think will ease traffic jams. 

Secondary learners can study specific spots where traffic is known to back up, such as at interchanges and where the number of lanes decrease. Have them research solutions to these problems. Other questions to consider:

  • How does the incline of roadways affect different types of vehicles?  
  • Will a fully-loaded dump truck be able to move its load efficiently through a city of winding turns and steep grades? 

In addition to roadway design engineers, other careers in transportation include logistics, supply chain distribution, and passenger services. Have your class research one of these careers or ask professionals in one of these fields to speak to your school. Kids can visualize themselves as teachers, doctors, and lawyers because these careers are familiar. It’s important to expose them to other interesting fields so that they might make better course selections later. 

Many college students flounder when asked to select a major because of their limited work experience. It is difficult to imagine oneself as a supply-chain analyst, or a geodesist surveyor, if you have never met one. With spiraling college costs, learners need better career preparation earlier in life to eliminate costly delays. Perhaps one day, you will be able to thank one of your former students as you sail through traffic on the way to anywhere. 


STEM Is the Buzzword  

A Lesson Planet article on incorporating Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in the curriculum. Provides practical ideas on how to achieve more hands-on problem solving in your classroom.

Career Quest  

In this lesson for secondary learners, the class completes a career key measure that serves as the beginning of a career exploration. They research the nature of work related to a career, the qualifications and responsibilities, and other specifics. 

Break It Down: Reverse Engineering  

Middle schoolers predict what the inner mechanism is inside a toy car and draw it. They then disassemble the car and compare the actual mechanism to their drawing. After understanding how the toy functions, students suggest changes that might make the car more efficient, more ecological, and more economical.