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U.S. DOT Volpe Center Supports NCDOT Equity and Innovation Initiatives

Friday, July 15, 2022

Since 2018, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center has provided research support to the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) for several major equity initiatives and the reorganization of NCDOT’s innovation structures and programs. As a partner in this work, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center brought expertise to aid in assessing barriers to accessing the field of transportation technology as well as support in building a culture of innovation that can be developed at other state DOTs.

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center assembled a team of experts from across its multiple disciplines to assist NCDOT in a broad range of activities. Building upon their experience in supporting other state DOTs and federal agencies, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center team provided NCDOT with a variety of technical services, including quantitative and qualitative research, assessment and evaluation, and program and organizational development.

NCDOT recognizes that economic development in the U.S. has a deeply inequitable history tied closely to segregation, affecting access by minority communities to housing and jobs, and vital services that include transportation. Addressing this history of inequitable access to transportation is a key component to expanding opportunities and creating an equitable future for all Americans.

Additionally, the current field of transportation technology in North Carolina and the nation has not included minorities at a rate consistent with their presence in the population. The emergence of new and innovative transportation technologies represents an important opportunity to address disparities faced by minority workers, entrepreneurs, and researchers. Advances in these technologies require significant research and development support, ample capital investments, a leadership focus on technology development, and entrepreneurs to build businesses based on new technologies.

To support NCDOT’s work in this area, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center assessed the status of opportunities for minorities in transportation technology within North Carolina and across the U.S., and how the state’s 10 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and one Minority Serving Institution (MSI) for Native American students can fill the need for qualified professionals and provide research and policy expertise to NCDOT.

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center team conducted a literature review and analyzed census and employment data on multiple topics. The findings were synthesized into actionable insights captured in Minorities in Transportation Technology: Baseline Industry & Demographic Trends 2020. The report highlights current inequities in employment, minority involvement in research, the presence of people of color in leadership positions in the industry, and opportunities for minority-owned business entrepreneurship.

The report concluded that the field of transportation technology in North Carolina has not included minorities at a representative rate, and the emergence of new transportation technologies provides an important opportunity to expand access to the field to minority workers, entrepreneurs, and researchers. The report also recommended that NCDOT adopt a multisector approach to develop and implement new programs that help expand access for minority groups in the transportation technology field.

To provide NCDOT with insights and policy recommendations regarding the involvement of HBCU/MSI students in this field, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center team conducted site visits and interviews at each institution to assess and document current transportation research and the capacity for its expansion. In Transportation Research Assessment of North Carolina HBCUs and MSI, the team describes the status of transportation research at each school; identifies opportunities for NCDOT to conduct outreach and expand research engagement at HBCU/MSI institutions, citing key strengths as well as barriers to engagement with NCDOT; and suggests strategies for overcoming these barriers.

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center team conducted interviews with national and state workforce development leaders, reviewed current research and publications, and drew from the HBCU/MSI Research Assessment to create a strategy for workforce development. The result, Developing a School to Transportation Workforce Pipeline in North Carolina, identifies gaps, opportunities, and potential solutions to strengthen connections between students at those institutions and transportation technology career opportunities in the state.

Additionally, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center team produced North Carolina HBCU Transportation Research Consortiums, an internal analysis of the types of consortiums best suited to specific North Carolina HBCUs/MSIs, and support NCDOT could provide these groups.

Conclusions were based on the results of the transportation research readiness assessment the team conducted, and on techniques that such consortiums in other states have used to form, fund, and institutionalize their partnerships.

The culmination of these equity-related support efforts, developed in collaboration with leaders from eight Divisions across NCDOT, was SEA-Change: A Strategic Equity Agenda. SEA-Change is a blueprint for integrated, comprehensive, and measurable action items by NCDOT Units and Divisions to advance equity. It provides a set of forward-looking strategies for coordinating diversity, equity, and inclusion activities across the Department to increase equity within the transportation field. For this effort, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center team drew information and data from the wide range of experience, expertise, and documentation of previous equity-related work at NCDOT and elsewhere, using draft plans from each NCDOT Division and the goals and priorities of participants.

In support of NCDOT’s goal of building internal mechanisms to support innovation, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center team provided direction for creating the charter for the North Carolina Transportation Innovation Council (NC-TIC) as well as guidance documents on how the NC-TIC should operate. The purpose of NC-TIC is to foster a collaborative culture within NCDOT to rapidly implement meaningful innovations and efficiently deliver a modern, high-quality transportation system to the public.

In addition, U.S. DOT Volpe Center staff conducted a series of interviews with other state DOT knowledge management and innovation programs to support NCDOT’s Communicate Lessons, Exchange Advice, Record (CLEAR) Program’s rollout and ongoing implementation. The CLEAR Program collects lessons learned, innovative ideas, and best management processes to be shared throughout the Department.

Lastly, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center assisted NCDOT in the creation and analysis of a survey to measure employee attitudes toward and engagement in innovation activities.

About the U.S. DOT Volpe Center

Celebrating more than 50 years of federal service to the nation, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s mission is to transform transportation for all.

We’re Hiring: Learn more about our open job opportunities, our commitment to equity, and what it’s like to work at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center.