GAMD 2019: Today’s youth to become tomorrow’s transportation leaders

On March 15th, the Kansas City Chapter of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) honored the legacy of Garrett A. Morgan and his contributions to the transportation industry by exposing some students from the Topeka, Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri school districts to the work of transportation planners, bus drivers, air traffic control technicians, engineers, architects and others. The Garrett A. Morgan Shadow Day Program was developed under the Clinton administration by Rodney E. Slater, the former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. COMTO KC hosts the Garrett A. Morgan Shadow Day each year to encourage young people to pursue transportation-related careers and help grow and sustain a workforce to meet the technical demands of the 21st century.

Much of the seasoned transportation workforce is retiring. The demand for both traditional and new skills is expanding. The nation’s need for technologically literate transportation workers continues to grow. We have an obligation to ensure that today’s students are aware of the tremendous opportunities in the field of transportation and that they are prepared to take advantage of those opportunities. Members of the COMTO Kansas City chapter developed a variety of activities for students experience during the shadow day:

Introductions and Purpose:

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As part of the Shadow Day, 15 students visited the RIDE KC offices to learn about what Garrett A. Morgan Shadow Day is about, Fixed-Route Planning, and how bus drivers are trained to drive the region’s various bus routes. They also learned that KCATA has one of only nine national bus garage’s that house their entire fleets of buses, para-transit, and other vehicles. Many staff shared stories about how they may have started off as bus drivers, secretaries, or in maintenance but through hard work and perseverance they have now positioned themselves into higher ranking roles in the transit agency. The students were surprised to learn that bus drivers, maintenance workers, and safety instructors are in high demand and are able to lead a financially secure lifestyle.

RIDE KC Bus Simulator:



Students were able to train to become a Bus Operator by using the Bus Simulator. They learned how difficult it may be to operate a large vehicle while trying to get people from point A to point B on time. The simulator incorporated various real-life distractions such as weather occurrences, unassuming drivers, and random bike-riders. This activity gave the students a greater appreciation of Bus Operators and riding transit in general.

Riding with RIDE KC:

Bus Travels


COMTO KC and students were lucky enough to be driven throughout the city by our own RIDE KC Bus! Thanks again, Mr. John!

Riding the KC Streetcar and Tour:



The second leg of the field trip led the group to the Kansas City Streetcar Authority Maintenance Facility where Streetcar staff gave them a tour of the facility and they were able to view maintenance staff inspect the streetcars. The students and COMTO members rode the KC Streetcar to the facility which was a great experience. The students learned why a streetcar may be valuable to a central business district and how a Transportation Development District (TDD) is formed. Also, Tom Gerend (Executive Director of KC Streetcar Authority) gave a detailed analysis of the potential extensions that are in the works.

Tour of Charles B. Wheeler Air Traffic Control Tower:


Students really enjoyed the view inside the Air Traffic Control Tower. They asked many questions such as, “How much would it cost to park my own airplane here?” Airport staff informed the students on what it takes to become an Air Traffic Controller and why it may be a viable career. Airport staff conducted a team-building activity with the kids teaching them how important communication is. Air Traffic Controllers have to rely on effective communication with each other to maintain safety in the friendly skies. Students were surprised to learn that many celebrities and sporting teams frequent this airport such as Former President Obama, Drake, and Kansas City Chiefs players.

Lunch, a Tour, and an Engineering Summit at WSP:




The festivities ended at WSP’s new downtown office in the River Market area. Our gracious host provided delicious Minsky’s pizza and gave the students a presentation on the various projects they are currently working on including the KC Streetcar Riverfront Extension. The students learned the differences between transit planning, civil engineering, traffic signalization, and more. WSP staff expressed the importance of client satisfaction and how cool it is to design a building or structure that will stand the test of time. WSP staff also provided a tour of their newly acquired offices while many of them tried to sway the children on where to attend college. The day ended with a panel discussion with various engineers around the metro describing how they got into the field and why they enjoy their careers today.

The transportation industry can provide great career opportunities for young people, and the demand for both traditional and new skills is expanding. As many experienced members of the transportation workforce approach retirement, the need for skilled, technical workers will grow. Transportation-related industries offer career opportunities for young people in planning, engineering, and other related fields. COMTO KC would like to truly thank all the help we received from WSP, MoDOT, KDOT, KCMO, Taliaferro and Browne, MARC, KCATA, Charles B. Wheeler Airport, KC Streetcar Authority, and a special shout out to COMTO KC Scholarship/Youth Engagement Committee Co-Chairs AJ Byrd and Doria Watson for coordinating the entire event!

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