2016 Fellow George Park (Washington & Lee University) worked for the US Department of Transportation (US DOT) in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, Office of Safety, Energy and Environment during the summer. He shares his excellent final report and priceless experience at the DOT.
ILF 2016 Fellow George Park with Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx
I was assigned various roles, participated in several teams, and engaged in a wide range of projects. From making phone calls to in-depth data analysis, I had a positive and diverse internship experience. I learned a lot about myself and about public service, and I have no doubt that I benefitted greatly from this experience. In this short report, I have provided a short list of the work I did at the US DOT and offered my reflection on the experience as a whole.
– Learned about DOT organizational structure and modern transportation issues by reading journal publications and keeping up-to-date on transportation news. One-on-one discussion with various people in different modes aided in this process.
– Met the Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and the Undersecretary for Policy Blair Anderson
– Attended various meetings, working sessions, etc. to expand knowledge on my work and US DOT work as a whole. Many of these meetings were attended or led by high-profile leaders within the department.
– Worked to promote the Mayors Challenge Awards and encourage the submission of awards applications
– Specified and collected relevant state laws and weather data for economic model in a data analysis project. This project is designed to find answers to questions revolving around the rise in pedestrian fatalities across the country. This process involved extensive research and many one-on-one conversations with data analysts and leaders in various departments.
– Explored data by using pivot tables, running correlations, and experimenting on Stata
– Attempted to draft a definition for “transportation desert,” a term that has yet to be officially defined but is deeply intertwined with issues of connectivity and equity. During this process, I drew on information from my poverty classes and relevant experiences volunteering in rural Virginia
– Organized and distributed MC Awards Applications to reviewer teams based off of calculated overlaps in relevant challenge areas
– Reviewed a set of MC Awards Applications with an employee from FHWA and provided independent ratings for each application to assist in the judging process
– Compiled and organized key statistics and measurables related to Mayors Challenge initiatives into an excel spreadsheet by thoroughly reading and categorizing the submitted MC Awards Applications. Some of this work may be featured in future reports.
– Identified key Mayors Challenge cities and wrote short overviews detailing their accomplishments in meeting their goals
– Carefully reviewed and organized comments and questions from two US DOT webinars with stakeholders interested in learning about a new rulemaking in order to help identify key policy issues of interest. The process involved watching the webinars, independently researching the nuances of transportation planning, and learning about the proposed rule.
The past several weeks have proven to be an incredibly rewarding and invaluable experience for me as I enter my senior year of college and begin to think about life beyond graduation. This is especially true because of the quality of people and work that I was exposed to during my short internship. The office I interned in is a very important office in the DOT that works closely with the office of the Secretary. As a result, the people I had the opportunity to work with were incredibly intelligent and accomplished and the projects I was exposed to had a heightened sense of urgency and impact. Coupled with the fact that transportation is a highly technical issue and that the department has so many modes within it, this environment both challenged and rewarded me in more ways than I could have possible imagined.
From the minute I entered 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE on my first day of work, I had to rapidly learn the complexities of my department, the role my office plays in the department and the current projects underway. I also had to quickly learn transportation jargon, get up to speed with modern transportation news and issues, learn my coworkers’ names and determine how I was expected to conduct myself within my specific office setting. Lastly, I had to acclimate myself to the new lifestyle that comes with a full time job. Finding a way to fit commuting, working from 9-5:30, exercising, attending mandatory ILF events, eating, chores, and leisure all into my daily regiment really tested my psychological and physical endurance.
All of this said, in the end, I think that I was able to successfully adapt to my new environment and overcome the obstacles I faced. I learned so much about transportation, in terms of where we started, where we are now, and where we are heading. I also had the opportunity to look at socioeconomic inequality through the lens of transportation, something I had never done before in my studies at school as a Poverty Studies minor. Outside of the transportation world, I gained skills and wisdom that will help me in any office environment, regardless of the field. I learned how to juggle multiple projects at once, how to build trust with coworkers and my supervisor, operational nuances like managing calendar invites and writing succinct emails, and more.
Working in my office also gave me a plethora of lessons in leadership. I got to observe many different styles of leadership from “leading” and “following” perspectives and was able to draw connections between the things I observed in my office and the lessons us ILF fellows learned during the monument tour and the OCA leadership training. For instance, the director of my office is not exactly a stereotypical leader, but she is extremely effective because of her intelligence and dedication. Much like Thomas Jefferson, she often leads by being the person in the room who knows the most. My supervisor’s ability to manage our various projects and consistently inspire quality work from everyone in the office is just one example of the many sources of inspiration that I was exposed to.
My internship gave me an endless list of valuable lessons on topics like leadership, relationships, work ethic, time management, etc. All things that will help me in the future. However, if I had to narrow my experience down to one key takeaway it would be that by engaging in government work, I gained a much greater appreciation of the virtue of leadership: service to others. Regardless of whether or not I end up working in the government after graduation, that is something I will take with me wherever I go.