Speaking with authority
By Danise Jones
“Twenty-five years from now, because of President [Barack] Obama’s vision, 80 percent of America will be connected to high-speed rail,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says. “It’s going to happen. The train has left the station.”
LaHood, a Bradley University alumnus, was the keynote speaker at “The Future of Midwest Transportation” symposium, held at the Peoria Civic Center on November 10, 2010. Partnering with Bradley University’s Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service in sponsoring the symposium were BU’s College of Engineering, The Dirksen Congressional Center, the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, and the Heart of Illinois Regional Port District (TransPORT, a unit of local government).
Several hundred BU students and faculty, business and government leaders, and interested citizens attended the event and luncheon address by LaHood, the second member of President Obama’s Cabinet to participate in an IPL-hosted symposium in 2010. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was the keynote speaker at IPL’s “Transforming Public Education” symposium held April 21, 2010, in Peoria.
“This is a very important symposium,” LaHood says. “It’s important because we’re right on the cutting edge of a new (federal) transportation bill.” He says Illinois is positioned to do well because of high-level discussions, like those at IPL’s symposium, which explored ways to enhance the Midwest’s transportation network to make the region more globally competitive. LaHood praised IPL for inviting 100 BU engineering students, who he called “the next leaders in transportation.”
LaHood discussed the importance of the six-year, $500 billion federal transportation bill that is being debated in Congress. “As we look across the country, we see roads, bridges, and transit systems that are overburdened and obsolete.”
The secretary believes the next transportation bill will be bipartisan because it will put Americans to work building much-needed projects in local communities. “It will continue to build infrastructure and rebuild infrastructure in America. It’ll be good for our economy, and it will keep America at the forefront of transportation in so many different ways.”
LaHood says one of President Obama’s “signature programs,” high-speed intercity rail, is an alternative Americans want. The United States has state-of-the-art interstates and a state-of-the-art freight rail system, LaHood says, but “what we don’t have is the high-speed passenger rail that they have in Europe and Asia.” He believes that will change in the years ahead.
Support from Amtrak and the freight rail system is essential to making high-speed rail a reality, LaHood says. It is because of that support that Illinois has good freight rail transportation throughout the Midwest and much of the nation. However, LaHood says the Obama Administration believes the next important step is to improve America’s passenger rail system.
LaHood predicts the new Congress will support high-speed rail, despite the House and Senate having divided political leadership.
“What would have happened 50 years ago if states like Ohio or Wisconsin said, ‘We don’t want an interstate system’? They would have been cut off from America,” LaHood says. “These aren’t Republican or Democratic problems. They are American problems.”
The transportation symposium featured panel discussions and presentations by various transportation leaders, including Tom Carper, chairman of the Amtrak Board, and Bradley alumna Tana Utley, chief technology officer and vice president of product development and global technology for Caterpillar.
‘Transforming Public Education’
When U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stood behind the podium last spring, he knew how to warm up his Peoria audience — insert his transportation Cabinet partner into the equation. “Ray LaHood has been a real mentor,” Duncan says. “He’s been a phenomenal partner to work with.”
Duncan looked forward to participating in the education symposium with its mix of experts that included mayors, school superintendents, and researchers.
“These kinds of dialogues can’t happen enough,” he says. Education is complex because many levels of leadership need to work together to give students a chance to be successful. “Only when we get out of our silos, throw egos aside, and come together behind children do we have a chance to get where we need to go as a country. School systems cannot become world class by themselves. The only way we can get that dropout rate to zero, the only way we can make sure every child has a chance to get a world-class education is if all of the assets of a city rally together behind the public education system.”
One of the keys to making American schools globally competitive is for students to spend more time in the classroom, Duncan says.
“Our children today are at a competitive disadvantage. Children in India and China are simply going to school 20, 30, 40 more days than our children. I think our children are as smart, as talented, as committed as children anywhere in the world. I think we’re not leveling the playing field.”
Moreover, schools should become the centers of the community, Duncan says, being open year-round, up to 14 hours a day, and six or seven days a week. Instead, Duncan warned that schools can’t contract, can’t cut programs or personnel despite economic hardships.
“In education, we’re not cutting fat, we’re cutting bone at this point. The kinds of cuts, the layoffs, the elimination of summer schools, the school districts going to four-day weeks, extracurricular being eliminated … that’s not good for children. We need more time, not less.”
Giving children a well-rounded education is vital, Duncan says, including subjects outside the basics of reading and math. He endorsed enhanced offerings in science, social studies, art, physical education, and foreign languages, beginning at preschool.
“With everyone rallying behind this effort, I think we have the chance to fundamentally break through,” Duncan says. “I think if we can work as hard as we can these next few years, we can change education forever in this country.”
Listening to the symposium’s education experts discuss America’s needs inspired many of the students attending, IPL Executive Director Brad McMillan says. Many students attending changed their student teaching preference from teaching in a suburban school to teaching in an inner-city school.
Others participating in the education symposium included Bradley’s College of Education and Health Sciences Dean Joan Sattler, Department of Teacher Education faculty member Dr. Heljä Antola-Crowe, faculty members from other universities, government and business leaders, concerned citizens, and more than 130 Bradley education students. Partnering with IPL at the symposium were The Dirksen Congressional Center, City of Peoria, the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, and Bradley’s College of Education and Health Sciences.
IPL hosts national public policy symposiums on current issues of importance where business and government leaders, interested citizens, and others can facilitate the conversation in a bipartisan manner, McMillan says.
Bradley students impress LaHood with ideas, innovations
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was billed as the star of “The Future of Midwest Transportation” symposium, but it was a group of Bradley University students who stole the show.
“The students are the best part of this conference. They really are our future,” says LaHood after hearing the students describe their nearly yearlong car-building project.
The 1971 graduate of Bradley was pleased to see more than 100 BU students, primarily engineering majors, at Bradley University’s Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service-sponsored event.
“It really gives them an opportunity to shine and promote their ability to be the next engineers and innovators in transportation,” says LaHood, who welcomed the combination of students and national transportation leaders in attendance.
Dr. Martin Morris, Department of Mechanical Engineering professor, and senior ME students introduced the audience to the 2010 Ultra Lightweight Urban Vehicle (ULUV), which gets an equivalent fuel efficiency of 300 miles to the gallon, and the Formula SAE racecar. Team captains Nathan Petersen and Mike Richards talked about their senior class project that revolves around concepting, designing, and building the urban vehicle. It takes the teams nine months to create each of the two cars. The students have to complete the work by graduation.
“They don’t have enough people. They don’t have enough time,” College of Engineering and Technology Dean Richard Johnson says. “They don’t have enough money to build, but they still have to build the project. They are under time pressures. They are under budget pressures. That’s what the industry expects from Bradley students.”
Petersen says LaHood quickly put the students at ease. “We were thoroughly thrilled to have had the opportunity to share what we have been learning with others in influential positions. It was hard to do anything other than smile during the entire event and even days after.”
The students were anxious about meeting the Transportation secretary, Morris says, but he assured them that they were the experts and that they would be able to enlighten him about their vehicles. And Morris was right.
“These are the people who are going to be planning our roads, bridges, and high-speed rail, and really they’re the innovators,” LaHood told the gathering. “They’re going to be the smart people sitting in the driver’s seat when it comes to future transportation and to have them involved here gives them the kind of momentum and energy they need to fulfill these important tasks.”
Prior to the luncheon, LaHood visited with several other mechanical engineering students to discuss their research projects.