By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)
Sometimes one encounters an awakening in the most unexpected places. Recently, for me, it came during a visit to a Chicago magnet school where I interacted with a class of 4th grade students.
Amazing 4th grade students, I must point out.
Here’s some background.
The Walt Disney Magnet School in Chicago’s Buena Park neighborhood was planning a program to teach students about industries that would yield employment opportunities in the future. One 4th grade class was addressing the job outlook in the transportation industry. The instructor, Morgan Stumbras, reached out to me at the university where I work and inquired if someone would be free to speak to the students.
I received permission to visit and deliver a short presentation. A scholarly, schooled transportation guy, I’m not. But after some four years leading transportation technology transfer initiatives, I felt confident I could share some relevant and valuable insight.
One concern I shared with Ms. Stumbras: Would the class be able to comprehend much of what I had to say about the work done by our research staff, the value of transportation in modern society, and recent transportation developments in Chicago and around the nation? Rest assured, she said: These kids rank in the 98 percentile.
She was right.
Shortly after I launched my PowerPoint presentation, hands shot up and the boys and girls posed poignant and at times provocative questions. Frankly, I was stunned at their collective interest, knowledge and inquisitiveness. One kid even gave an accurate definition of the so-called “last mile” leg of commute, a challenge society certainly needs to address.
They politely inquired about autonomous vehicles, the Divvy bike share program, the difference between freight and transit, the future of hover boards and transportation challenges facing Chicago.
A recent mobility success, the new Chicago 606 trail was of particular interest, and that discussion led to further conversation on the impact The 606 has made on gentrification in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The students sparked when I noted that the transportation industry will always need professionals like engineers to help design transportation networks in the years to come. “My mother is an engineer!” one girl noted enthusiastically. After a comment on safety, another girl pointed out that her mother said she used to ride in the front seat of automobiles as a child, something not done today.
I even gave a shout out about my Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential, stressing how it keeps me committed to learning about modern public relations practices.
So, how was I awakened by the 32 kids comprising Ms. Stumbras’ class?
In light of all the challenges — transportation and many others — we face as a society today, there’s a generation ready to meet those challenges head-on, and win.
The 4th grade class at the Disney Magnet School made that quiet clear.