Saturday, December 29, 2012

TRB Committee involvement advice

I often get asked by young professionals about what I have done to be involved with TRB. I began my involvement in the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting as an employee at Kittelson & Associates, Inc. (KAI) with activity surrounding the firm's work on research mostly related to the Highway Capacity Manual. The Committee on Highway Capacity and Quality of Service is a great model to watch because of the success they have had with attracting research to the topic, expanding the scope of their efforts over time, and how they use a wide range of Subcommittee meetings to get work done. The exposure to that group was a solid base to start branching out to get involved in activities that were more diverse than what KAI was involved. The firm valued people that followed their interests and worked to develop expertise that would compliment the existing skills, so it was a cognizant choice to follow my interests in Traffic Signal Systems and what I saw of as a need for the firm. By getting engaged in this work, it would allow diversity of the "Kittelson brand" (that term wasn't ever used) and professional growth of the staff involved (me and others that I could include later). There was another person with the firm involved in this sort of work at the time, so it wasn't entirely a jump to a new topic; it allowed me to fill a need that would result in growth for the firm.

Looking back, the combination of a new business line or one that could be enhanced by even more dedication to the effort, I found that the chances to lead for a young professional were ample and while from a financial standpoint did not make the most sense; the company was exceptional in its interest and dedication where they would follow people that had a passion for a particular topic. Blending the expertise in KAI's core Traffic Operations (Highway Capacity Manual) business and complimentary topics was a recipe for success provided that both parties are willing to make the investment.

Back to the TRB story...(how to get involved)

The Traffic Signal Systems Committee added me as a younger member after showing up and volunteering to serve in a variety of capacities. My first activity was to summarize our Sunday Workshop in a newsletter format that was emailed out to the Committee and some of our partner agencies. Being named as a Younger Member was a great entry into the inner circle, sitting at the "Big Kids table" at the formal meetings. The experience was daunting at the start, but slowly by volunteering time and organizing efforts (more involvement in getting speakers for the workshops on Sunday, paper reviews, editing of the Triennial Strategic Plan, etc) it lead to greater exposure and an understanding of teaming arrangements both in the research community and for local projects. It lead to a payback over the long term, not often something that a corporate quarterly financial report would highlight.

Once you have initially started with a Committee, coordination with other people across TRB is of interest to diversify the range of topics that you can get involved with. In the private sector, this can help build that next group of professionals that would continue to grow the market. Examples of the how that early work and investment on the Transit Signal Priority Workshop resulted in follow up work can be seen on the KAI website and at work completed for the Federal Transit Administration.

Tips for getting more involved in a Committee

1. Analyze the activities they are doing and think about how well they are doing them and if you can help (website, social media - who is in charge of this? - perhaps no one, newsletter - is there one?)
2. Email the Committee chair and or Secretary and start a dialogue before the meeting
3. Sign up to develop a Research Problem Statement, joint with another Committee. The other Committee may not know your experience level and your technical understanding in your topic may be higher than theirs. If you are new to the profession this is difficult, but you certainly add value in places.

Updated Tips (12/28/12): 

Now that I am a Committee Chair, a few more tips:
1. Go meet the Chair, but don't ask to be a Member upon the first handshake. This happens occasionally and while membership is not exclusive, it is something that is done to acknowledge the service of friends of the Committee. The list of friends to the Committee is often long, so dedicated volunteers are appreciated and first to be named as Members.
2. Get involved with a Subcommittee. You don't have to be a Member to have a significant contribution. Subcommittees are where the real work gets done in the larger Committees. Traffic Signal Systems just added two Subcommittees (Multimodal focus and Asset Management) and often the Subcommittee Chair anticipates capturing meeting minutes as a part of their duties. Volunteering at the start of meeting to capture notes on your laptop during the meeting can be a nice way to start.
3. Volunteer to present at a Subcommittee meeting. This is another thing to do in advance of the meeting as opposed to 15 minutes before it starts. It is important that you have something relevant to the group, but it is another potential way to get engaged.

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