Jill Hough, director of the Small Urban and Rural Transit Center at NDSU, launched a successful mentorship program with students from her public transportation class during the spring semester. Students were paired with an industry leader for eight weeks to discuss topics and learn from the mentors’ experiences in the transportation industry during a structured weekly phone visit.
Mentors view the program as extremely valuable, offering students insight that comes from experience rather than a textbook. The mentorship program also opens a gateway for the industry to communicate with educators about the best practices for preparing students to become leaders in the industry.
“We need to have this dialogue so that classes are being crafted around real-time transportation challenges,” said Robert Prince, vice president of AECOM, a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including transportation, facilities, environmental, energy, water and government.
David Lee, general manager of Connecticut Transit, believes mentorship programs are critical to the development of students seeking careers in the industry. Many opportunities from partnerships between education and industry, he said, have not been fully realized.
Students also note the value of the mentorship opportunity, saying that the knowledge transit leaders provided gave insight into policies, management and other challenges leaders face. Hearing the perspective of professionals who have first-hand knowledge of the industry also helped students see what they are learning put into practice in real-life situations.
Transportation and logistics doctoral student, Dilip Mistry, said the mentorship program helps students see how partnerships between industry and education are beneficial, paving the way for students to become mentors one day and sustaining such programs.
Hough plans to incorporate the mentorship program into the class again after seeing its success. Groundwork also is being laid to replicate the program at other universities, such as Rutgers University. Leaders developing the National Transportation Curriculum also plan to incorporate a similar mentorship program.
Educators and industry leaders alike know that creating a partnership between higher education and the transportation industry is vital to the continued success of the industry. While students can learn much from their mentors, Hough stresses, “Students can share innovative and creative ideas with the industry and help move the industry forward.”
The necessity of university-industry partnerships was addressed at the 2011 American Public Transportation Association’s Bus and Paratransit Conference. Hough moderated a panel of transit professionals as they discussed educating the transportation workforce. The session also included roundtable discussions led by the mentors and other professionals on topics in transportation education.
“There was tremendous dialogue about moving the University-Transit Industry relationships forward [at the conference],” Hough said. “When we work together we create win-win opportunities.”