"Shape Your Transportation Career" with NITC Advisory Board Member Cameron Kergaye

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Earlier this summer we held our inaugural "Shape Your Transportation Career: Ask Me Anything" with NITC Advisory Board members. The guest speaker fields career questions from NITC transportation students about their career path and current role. Our next NITC Shape Your Transportation Career AMA, featuring Jen Duthie of the City of Austin, will be held on July 21 at 12 PM (PT).

Our first guest speaker was Cameron Kergaye, PhD, PE, PMP:

Cameron Kergaye is Director of Research & Innovation at the Utah Department of Transportation where he has nearly thirty years of project engineering experience. He was the Quality Manager for Utah’s $1.5 billion design-build project completed on time for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Cameron is a Professional Engineer in the State of Utah and a Project Management Professional with the Project Management Institute. He holds a PhD in civil engineering from the University of Utah with a research focus on adaptive signal control, traffic simulation studies and transportation system operations.

What do you enjoy most about work for a large public agency like a state DOT?

"It comes down to working with a team. If you like the people you're working with, it really helps to enjoy your day and the projects that you're working on. When you have this kind of teamwork, people seem to care about the work, they care about you, they make sure that you're supported and have what you need. Likewise, you need to give some of that back too. Wherever you work - big company or small company -  what they really value is a team player that shares their focus, goals and objectives."

What is UDOT's openness to new ideas and changing the way that things have been done?

"I work in research and innovation, so it comes with the territory. At UDOT overall there is a culture of innovation and willingness to try new things, a key part of that is our supportive leadership. It really helps carry you through, when your innovative efforts don't pan out, if you've got somebody willing to help shoulder it.

In the last 20 years we've tried out a lot of innovations - big and small. We've borrowed a creative intersection design from Mexico. We're using a submarine drone to do underwater bridge inspections. We work with University of Utah professors (Dr. Reid Ewing won our "Trailblazer" award two months ago) to identify new research that we can implement.

We also track down the smaller things. Things that are not on the scale of university research, but by someone who's just good with a blowtorch to solve a specific problem. For example, there is a grate in the gutter that catches debris. Cleaning that grate is a difficult project - it's a very heavy piece of metal. Somebody figured out a way to lift it out just using a winch on the back of a truck. It worked. Typically, something like that happens in one maintenance shed in one remote area and nobody hears about it. This type of innovation is highly valuable to us, and so we've got a two-person team that visits every maintenance shed in the state and asks them what they're working on, takes photos, and shares new solutions with UDOT."

What sort of innovative work has Salt Lake City been doing around multimodal infrastructure?

"We have a light rail transit line going through SLC, and we've tried to develop some signal timing parameters for better flow of traffic. We've got a congested area where it's difficult to run another line of trains through there, so we've put in a lot of effort to make sure that we can be efficient and still accommodate pedestrians. Pedestrians are your traditional traffic engineer's challenge, because everything seems to work well - until somebody pushes the walk button. We've invested quite a bit in bicycle studies as well."

What have you found helpful in terms of making professional connections?

"It's important to keep in mind that you need to have a little bit of diversity; some extra skills. In a large agency - we have 1,700 employees - it definitely was beneficial to move around and work in a variety of subfields. For the folks that didn't want to do that and pursued one specific goal, most of them kind of topped out on their career ladder. When it comes to hiring for management positions, the preference has always been for people who have had experience dabbling in different areas of the DOT. If you're not at a big company, you don't have to stay in your hometown to get exposed to new ideas and skills - there are a lot of transportation professional organizations (ITE, APA, TRB, etc.) that have monthly meetings and semiannual conferences. Get outside of your comfort zone and try something new!"

What were your goals as a student, and what motivated you in education?

"My goal was to learn and understand the importance of what I was learning. Undergraduate classes were diverse and gave me an opportunity to hear from different instructors. Graduate classes were much more focused yet I made long lasting connections with those instructors. And it's important to view graduate education as a responsibility to help others in the future."

Our next NITC Shape Your Transportation Career AMA, featuring Jen Duthie of the City of Austin, will be held on July 21 at 12 PM (PT). Any current student studying transportation (including 2020 grads) at any of NITC's six partner universities* is invited to attend.

*The National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC) is one of seven U.S. Department of Transportation national university transportation centers. NITC is a program of the Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) at Portland State University. This PSU-led research partnership also includes the Oregon Institute of Technology, University of Arizona, University of Oregon, University of Texas at Arlington and University of Utah. We pursue our theme — improving mobility of people and goods to build strong communities — through research, education and technology transfer.

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