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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Innovative Research

Picture of a city skyline with rays of light connecting different locations in the city
Researchers at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s Innovative Research Division work to accelerate the adoption of transportation innovations (Adobe Stock Image/WhoIsDanny). 

About Us

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center's Innovative Research Division serves the innovative transportation research needs of the U.S. DOT. The team supports a range of activities designed to optimize research programs’ success, from program design and administration to analysis and research.

Making our transportation system safer and stronger, more resilient and sustainable, and fairer and more equitable requires a renewed commitment to innovation. Our team oversees and coordinates key programs supporting U.S. DOT’s Office of the Secretary of Transportation (OST), its modal partners, and the transportation research community—helping design the future of transportation. The Innovative Research Division conducts analysis and research for many of its projects to assist stakeholders in understanding the opportunities and impacts of emerging technology, how certain policies and practices are integrated into research, and learning about best practices and lessons learned from technology adoption from across the country. 

Some highlights of our work include:  

  • Administering the U.S. DOT Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program on behalf of OST, identifying topics and solutions that connect the power of small business innovations with emerging federal research and development needs, and awarding more than $78 million in small business funding over the last 10 years on behalf of U.S. DOT’s eight participating operating administrations
  • Supporting the FHWA Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) program with evaluation and research assessment, future topic scoping, and research transition assistance, which analyzes the underlying gaps associated with applied highway programs focused on longer-term, higher-risk research with high-payoff potential
  • Supporting the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office with developing strategy, assessing scope, and managing ITS exploratory research using a mix of traditional and innovative research approaches on topics such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and Work Zone Data Exchange 
  • Coordinating technology transfer across the U.S. DOT including research and implementation process analysis, process design, and communication support to OST’s Technology Transfer program
  • Supporting the design and implementation of the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grants Program, which established under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, aims to conduct demonstration projects focused on advanced smart community technologies and systems in order to improve transportation efficiency and safety.
  • Advancing equity activities as part of the Department’s Equity Action Plan implementation, including support of information development and dissemination designed to support internal and external stakeholders in expanding access and opportunity and improving how transportation programs are delivered.

Our team of transportation research innovation experts consists of technology policy analysts, general engineers, operations research analysts, policy analysts, and contract specialists who work collaboratively to help transportation leaders invest in purpose-driven research and innovation to meet today’s challenges and modernize the transportation system of the future.

Our Capabilities

Technology and Policy Analysis

  • Analyze solutions to enhance our transportation system by transforming our infrastructure, technology, and approaches to solving problems
  • Evaluate and assess research to scope future topics and support research transition
  • Develop strategy, assess scope, and manage exploratory research using a mix of traditional and innovative approaches, such as artificial intelligence, location and referencing, imaging and sensing, and data analytics
  • Provide process analysis, process design, and communication support to innovative research programs 
  • Conduct research and oversee contracts focused on a variety of safety countermeasures

Strategic Planning, Analysis, and Collaboration

  • Oversee and coordinate key program delivery and data exchanges 
  • Facilitate cross-disciplinary, transportation-oriented teams 
  • Improve the quality, consistency, and efficiency of peer review processes
  • Improve the process for disseminating research results and sharing information with stakeholders 
  • Engage stakeholders to advance research objectives
  • Help the transportation research community facilitate effective technology transfer 

Meet Our Team

View selected staff biographies.

Rachael Barolsky Sack 

Chief 

Sack headshot

Rachael Barolsky Sack is the chief of the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s Innovative Research Division and the director of the U.S. DOT SBIR program. Her work focuses on innovative approaches to program design and communication strategies for sharing information on emerging technologies, best practices, and related policies.

Since joining the U.S. DOT Volpe Center in 2002, Sack’s work has supported a variety of transportation areas including environmental streamlining for highway projects, technology transfer initiatives, highway safety countermeasures, and most recently the Inclusive Design Challenge, a prize competition seeking inclusive design solutions to both create and enable accessible automated vehicles for people with disabilities. She also facilitates interagency working groups and issue-specific meetings with the goals of sharing information across agencies, reaching consensus on key issues, and agreeing to action-oriented solutions.

Sack has served as Federal Women’s Program manager for the U.S. DOT Volpe Center and is past president of the Women’s Transportation Seminar-Boston Chapter. In 2009, she received the FHWA Administrator’s Team Award for her work on the Surface Transportation Project Delivery Pilot Program and the FRA Administrator’s Team Award for her work on the development of FRA’s new Risk Reduction Program. In 2011, Sack received Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s EEO/Affirmative Action Award for her contributions to support women in transportation. She holds a master’s degree in energy and environmental analysis and a Bachelor of Arts degree in energy and environmental policy, both from Boston University (Boston, MA).

View Rachael Sack’s LinkedIn profile.

Matt Cuddy 

Operations Research Analyst

Matt Cuddy headshotMatt Cuddy is an operations research analyst in the Innovative Research Division at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center. He specializes in designing stakeholder engagement strategies to drive the adoption of research products. Currently, Cuddy is focused on enabling voluntary data exchanges to accelerate the safe rollout of automated vehicles (AVs) by developing partnerships among U.S. DOT (particularly ITS JPO’s Data Program), AV developers, and states and cities. He also leads U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s support of U.S. DOT’s Technology Transfer Program.

Prior to joining the Volpe Center, Cuddy worked in multiple aspects of transportation technology and policy. He developed university-industry research relationships at Northwestern University’s Transportation Center. He developed land-use/transportation policy for the State of New Jersey at Rutgers University’s Center for Urban Policy Research. He also developed hybrid vehicle drivetrain technology in partnership with GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He holds a PhD in urban planning and policy development from Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ), an MS in mechanical engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder (Boulder, CO), and a BS in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Cornell University (Ithaca, NY).
 

Nate Deshmukh Towery

Technology Policy Analyst

Nate Deshmukh Towery is a technology policy analyst at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center. He works to boost early-stage transportation technologies out of the lab and into the field, and he develops policy approaches to improve the safety of automated vehicles as they navigate road construction zones alongside human drivers.

Deshmukh Towery currently supports FHWA’s EAR Program, which funds longer-term, higher-risk research projects that could lead to transformational changes and truly revolutionary advances in highway engineering and intermodal surface transportation in the United States. He also leads a project on work zone data for the ITS-JPO Data Program, which aims to make travel on public roads safer and more efficient through ubiquitous access to data on work zone activity.

Deshmukh Towery has worked on a variety of projects during his tenure at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center. He has supported research on automated vehicle policy development, on the environmental implications of connected vehicles, and on addressing the shortage of commercial airline pilots.

Prior to joining the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, Deshmukh Towery worked as an analyst at the Science and Technology Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., a federally funded research and development center supporting the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He holds a PhD in history, anthropology, science, technology, and society (with a focus on organizations, expertise, and change) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA) and a BA in history of science from Harvard College (Cambridge, MA).

Ben Hunter

Pathways Policy Analyst

Ben Hunter is currently a Pathways Policy Analyst in the Innovative Research Division at the U.S DOT Volpe Center. He currently supports FHWA’s Exploratory Advanced Research Program, which funds longer-term, higher-risk research projects that could lead to transformational changes and revolutionary advances in highway engineering and intermodal surface transportation in the United States. Additionally, Hunter supports the SMART Grants Program rollout, among other U.S. DOT initiatives. 

Prior to joining the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, he received his BA in English from Siena College (Loudonville, NY) and interned with the United States Senate. Currently, Hunter is working towards a master’s degree in Public Administration with a concentration in Policy at Rockefeller College at the University at Albany (Albany, NY) and will graduate in May of 2023. 

Jenn Little 

Policy Analyst Student Trainee

Little headshotJenn Little is a policy analyst student trainee in the Innovative Research Division at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center. She supports several programs, including FHWA’s EAR Program and U.S. DOT’s SBIR Program. Little also contributes to a variety of communications projects in support of the U.S. DOT Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R). 

Prior to joining the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, she held roles in several federal agencies, including public affairs intern with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and program support trainee with PHMSA. Little is currently pursuing undergraduate degrees in political science and global studies from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (Baltimore, MD).

Carolina Mendez

Program Analyst

Carolina Mendez is a program analyst in the Innovative Research Division at U.S. DOT Volpe Center. Mendez joined Volpe in 2020 and since then has supported a range of projects such as Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE), Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office (ITS JPO) support, and U.S. DOT’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. 

Prior to joining to the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, Mendez worked at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board. Mendez holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Massachusetts Boston (Boston, MA). Mendez received a Bachelor of Science in marketing with a concentration in international business from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (Dartmouth, MA) and is a graduate of the Commonwealth Honors Program. 

Charles Mills 

Technology Policy Analyst 

Mills headshot

Charles Mills is a technology policy analyst in the Innovative Research Division at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center. Since joining the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, his work has supported a variety of transportation areas including facilitating data exchanges across the Department, developing planning initiatives for the National Park Service, and supporting FHWA’s EAR Program.
 
Prior to joining the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, Mills was a transportation planner at the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD), a metropolitan planning organization in Southeastern Massachusetts. At SRPEDD, he worked on a wide array of planning topics, which included collecting data, facilitating public meetings, developing transportation studies, and producing three-dimensional traffic simulations. Mills holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University at Buffalo (Buffalo, NY) and a master’s degree in city planning from Boston University (Boston, MA).

Mark Mockett

General Engineer

Mockett headshot

Mark Mockett is a general engineer in the Innovative Research Division at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center. He primarily supports ITS JPO and FHWA projects centered around connected and automated vehicles, intelligent transportation systems, and operational data. Among these projects is the Work Zone Data Exchange project, which aims to make harmonized data about work zones available throughout the country. Additionally, Mockett supports FHWA’s EAR program, which funds higher-risk, longer-term research with the potential to transform highway and other surface transportation in the U.S.
 
He holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA) with a focus on transportation systems. 

Patrick O’Brien 

Policy Analyst

Patrick O’Brien is a policy analyst in the Innovative Research Division at U.S. DOT Volpe Center. He currently supports U.S. DOT’s SBIR program and FRA’s Office of Railroad Policy & Development.

Prior to joining the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, O’Brien worked for the Defense Contract Management Agency analyzing business systems of defense contractors to ensure compliance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation. His background in transportation is in policy and operations. O’Brien worked for the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) analyzing transit data to increase the efficiency of transportation operations for large events and conventions. During his time at MCCA, he supervised a team of data collectors for the Seaport Shuttle Consolidation Project, which implemented a plan that cut stakeholder costs, traffic congestion, and carbon emissions.

In 2017, O’Brien completed a congressional district office transportation policy fellowship focusing on rail policy and last mile transit solutions. He is a certified acquisition professional with a level II Federal Acquisitions Certification for a Contracting Officer’s Representative and a level II Industrial/Contract Property Management certification. He holds a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Massachusetts Boston (Boston, MA) with a focus on public policy.

Darren Shaffer

Contract Specialist

Darren Shaffer is a contract specialist and serves as an acquisition planner/liaison for the Innovative Research Division at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center. He resumed this role in 2016 after a five-year break, during which he served as a contract officer with a $10 million warrant and a Level III Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting (FAC-C), the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s government purchase card (GPC) coordinator, and a small business specialist (SBS). Between 2008 and 2011, Shaffer doubled the obligations of the SBIR program without any increase to staff time. Prior to 2008, he served as a contract specialist within the Volpe Center’s Acquisition Division. Throughout his career, Shaffer has routinely demonstrated a willingness to push the envelope of convention and while remaining within the service ceiling of regulation. This willingness has yielded multiple firsts, innovative solutions to complex problems, and operational efficiencies. 

He awarded U.S. DOT’s first interagency SBIR Phase III award. Shaffer’s innovative approach to the structuring of work task resulted in $60 million being set aside for small business where no set-aside had existed for the 20 years prior. His contributions to the Acquisition Division at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center include doubling the efficiency of processing modifications of contracts multiple tasks and increasing the oversight of the GPC coordinator to all of the 5,000 annual transactions with no additional staff time. Time and time again, Shaffer applies an entrepreneurial, interdisciplinary approach, which was honed at The Evergreen State College (Olympia, WA) where he received both a bachelor’s degree and Master of Public Administration.

Tammy Taylor

Contract Specialist

Tammy Taylor is a contracting officer (CO) in the Innovative Research Division of the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She has served as a CO of U.S. DOT’s SBIR program since June 2016. In addition to her work on SBIR, Taylor served as the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s Disability Employment Program Manager for a three-year term that began in June 2015. Taylor also acts in an independent role as the president of the Recreational Association of Volpe Employees. She has extensive government acquisition and leadership experience.

Prior to joining the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, Taylor worked as a team lead CO managing the work of up to nine contract specialists at the Department of Defense’s Hanscom Air Force Base. Before that, she spent almost 20 years at the U.S. Army’s Soldier Systems Center. While most of these years were in the contracting field, she also did work in the logistics and administrative operation fields. Taylor holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in management, both from Emmanuel College (Boston, MA).

Sam Waitt 

Technology Policy Analyst 

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Samuel Waitt is a technology policy analyst at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s Innovative Research Division in Cambridge, MA. He primarily manages U.S. DOT Volpe Center support to the Office of the Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy in implementing activities related to the Department’s equity priority. Waitt also provides supports to the Department’s University Transportation Center Program (UTC) and Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office’s (ITS JPO) Complete Trip – ITS4US Deployment Program. He has worked on a variety of equity-related initiatives during his tenure at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, including the U.S. DOT Inclusive Design Challenge, DOT Equity Action Plan and internal Equity Community of Practice. 

Prior to joining the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, Waitt spent four years as a 6th grade science teacher in central Indiana until pursuing his master’s degree during which he was a STIPDG intern at FRA in Washington, D.C. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science from Ball State University (Muncie, IN) and a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN).

Melissa Wong

Program Analyst

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Melissa Wong has more than 25 years of experience designing, deploying, analyzing, and managing complex research initiatives across the private and public sectors. She joined the U.S. DOT Volpe Center in 2013. Since then, Wong has served as the program manager of U.S. DOT’s SBIR program. In addition to her work on SBIR, she supports ITS JPO on many projects that involve connected and automated vehicles, cybersecurity, privacy, environmental applications, and strategic planning.

Before joining the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, Wong was a supervisory survey statistician at the U.S. Census Bureau. Prior to that, she was an associate at Market Metrics, a market research firm focused on the financial services sector, an analyst for New York City’s Office of Budget, and the director of research at The Institute for Children and Poverty. 

Wong holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Macalester College (Saint Paul, MN) and a master’s of public administration from Columbia University (New York, NY), where she focused on economics and statistics.
 

 

Last updated: Monday, January 9, 2023