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IRF Road Scholar Program Fellows Team Up for an Exciting Week of Professional Growth

As one of ten students who either applied or were nominated to participate in the IRF Road Scholar Program 2021-22 class of Fellows, it took me some time before I realized the enormous and positive significance of this experience.

2020 and 2021 challenged the world with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the IRF Road Scholar Program was not immune to one of the largest disruptions to everyday life. As a result, this required a change of plans for both the 2021 and 2022 classes of IRF Fellows. Those of us in the 2021 class started with an online videoconference format, where we first met each other in a virtual environment and participated of presentations by IRF leaders and partners. Due to the small size of both classes, and the interest in providing the full experience to all IRF fellows, the 2021 class joined the 2022 class as part of the Road Scholar Program events hosted in Washington, DC, on January 5-13, 2022.

During the Road Scholar Program, we were delighted by presentations from notable road transportation sector leaders, including Dr. Gummada Murthy, the Director of the AASHTO Committee on System Management and Operations; Michael Sakata, President of the Maryland Transportation Builders and Materials Association, who provided us with immense advice on leadership and the latest news on transportation policy and public investments in the United States; and Thomas Antonissen, the EU Affairs Director at Akka Technologies, who talked about recent trends with connected autonomous vehicles and the latest digital technologies in the transportation sector.

The class was divided into two competing teams, the Pavers and the Winners, each consisting of both 2021 and 2022 Fellows. Throughout the fellowship program, we amassed points through teambuilding exercises, the scavenger hunt, the bridge competition, demonstrating our responsibility and punctuality throughout the program, participation in select events and exhibitions throughout the TRB Annual Meeting, and the final exam.
The three team-building exercises we went through consisted of presenting our perspective on the qualities of leaders, devising solutions and courses of action for hypothetical scenarios. The first of these was devising a survival plan for an airplane crash in the Canadian Arctic, and the second one consisted of hard decisions in a work environment management context.

The Bridge Competition was an intense affair celebrated on Tuesday, January 11th, where each team had to create a small-scale bridge using food items and an USD $20 budget. At the end, the most economic and quickest to build bridge design won, propelling Team 2 ahead in the competition.

Throughout the TRB Annual Meeting, we attended exhibitions, workshops, receptions, lectern and poster sessions, all of which gather the most talented transportation professionals and academics of the world in one place.

Additionally, the IRF Fellows Hat Exchange took place at the landmark TJ Stones Restaurant, where each of the student Fellows presented a memorable hat or other type of headgear to trade away with other fellows. This year, we were able to share fond memories and experiences related to our careers and hobbies symbolized by our headwear. In my case, I brought an ushanka, a Russian-styled winter hat with side wings to fend off the most bitter cold, and which represents my stories of travel to Washington DC in winter. In exchange, I ended up receiving a cap of the North Carolina State University Wolfpack.

In the end, the self-fulfilling prophecy for success occurred for Team 2, The Winners, who indeed emerged victorious after a heated final exam on our learning of the IRF Road Scholar Program, in which only 1 out of the 50 required answers decided the fate of the competition!

During the morning of the last day, January 13, we had our graduation ceremony, and received a farewell message from Dr. Kamil Kaloush, congratulating us for being part of the program, for our achievements and aspirations in our careers, and some parting words of wisdom.
I want to personally thank Chris Sanders and Lindsay Transportation Solutions for sponsoring my participation. We also thank the other sponsors: the Japan Roads Association, the Berger Charitable Foundation, VSS International, Troxler, and the IRF Fellows Alumni Association.

The 2021-22 IRF Road Scholar Program brought together a cadre of international rising stars and made them great friends, opening opportunities for the most amazing partnerships in the road engineering industry!

Alexander Molano Santiago, BSCE, MSCE Candidate
University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez

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