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Secretary Ray LaHood --Remarks as Prepared-- Women Transportation Seminar 2011 Annual Awards Banquet

Good evening.  Thank you, Terry [Gruver] and the staff of WTS, for bringing us together.  Thank you, all, for the invitation and warm welcome.

Some of you know that this is National Transportation Week – an opportunity for us to celebrate the invaluable contributions of the people who help Americans safely get from one place to another. 

Well, there is no group of more outstanding transportation professionals than the one assembled here.  So, on behalf of President Obama, I thank you for your service to our country – and to our economic recovery.

Now, I’m very proud to be part of an administration that’s doing so much to help women connect with opportunities to succeed.  And what we’ve learned is that when women do better – educationally, socially, economically – then families and communities do better in turn.  In other words, by investing in America’s women, we’re making a sound, smart investment in America’s future.

As you know, President Obama established the White House Council on Women and Girls, headed by Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen. Under their stewardship, all of us in government are reviewing our policies and programs with an eye toward empowering women today – and with a hand in building ladders that help women climb to positions of leadership.

How does this commitment translate to action?  Here’s one example:  On our department’s website, you’ll find a page devoted to women and girls, where you might see a salute to female truckers alongside mentoring opportunities and information for women business owners.

But even more telling is the fact that DOT’s senior ranks are filled with talented, dedicated, hard-working women – including tonight’s special honoree, WTS Woman of the Year, Karen Rae. 

Karen is the deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad administration.  She’s our go-to person for negotiating agreements with the states and freight railroads – and getting our high-speed rail network up and running.  And when I need to know something about one of our high-speed rail projects, she’s the first person I call.  Without her, we couldn’t put President Obama’s vision for high-speed rail in place.  Period.

But while significant, this is only the start.  Almost one year ago, I also had the opportunity to sign a memorandum of cooperation with WTS International.  We tailored it to promote mentorship – and to encourage young women to pursue study in the STEM disciplines, that’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

The good news is that, as we revitalize our nation’s transportation systems, the opportunities for young women are enormous.   We see rising demand for environmental engineers and technicians.  We see rising demand for skilled professionals in the high-speed rail business and aerospace industry.  We see rising demand for technical engineers at our own Volpe Center – the WTS International employer of the year.  Congratulations.

Or take aviation, where we’re making a huge technological leap forward and transitioning from a radar-based air traffic control system to a satellite-based one.  This groundbreaking effort requires a new generation of well-trained experts with technical know-how.  Specifically, we need a smart, new generation of air traffic controllers and flight data coordinators, as our generation begins to retire.

But here’s the catch: To fill these jobs, we need to prepare young people to seize the opportunities before them.  That means teaching the STEM skills.  But that also means linking young women with role models and with mentors. 

We need to create a pipeline that will bring a new generation of young women into transportation industries.  This is an issue of urgent national significance.  America’s competitiveness in the global economy hangs in the balance.   We can’t win the future without today’s young women engineering, building, operating, and maintaining tomorrow’s transportation systems.

So, tonight, I’m pleased to unveil our plans for “Transportation YOU.”  “Transportation YOU” is a hands-on mentoring program that puts young women – girls between the ages of 13 and 18 – directly in contact with working women.  It offers interactive field experiences in transportation-related fields.  And it opens the eyes of middle- and high-school-ers to a wide spectrum of job options – sparking the recognition that college and then careers in transportation are within reach.

Working collectively, we’ll tap into your network of over 4,000 professionals and 45 chapters to inspire girls across the country.  We’ll also partner with our network of 160 University Transportation Centers, which are already addressing workforce issues.  Thanks to all the WTS chapter presidents for your support.

So, we are very excited.  Together, we are expanding young women’s horizons.  We are out-educating and out-building the rest of the world. 

Thank you for your leadership.  Thank you for being role-models and mentors.    And congratulations on your outstanding achievements.   Enjoy the evening.

Thursday, May 19, 2011