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Gloria D. Shepherd G ’80, executive director of the Federal Highway Administration, recently earned honors for her work enacting President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan. Along with two U.S. Department of Transportation colleagues, she received the Partnership for Public Service 2023 Management Excellence Award.

An Albany native, she is the first woman and the first African American individual to lead the highway agency. She grew up near the Saint Rose campus, attending the Vincentian Institute, and then earning her undergraduate degree at St. John Fisher University in Rochester. She returned to Albany to receive her master’s in English at Saint Rose – going on to earn degrees from Albany Law School and Georgetown University Law Center as well as a Doctor of Arts from the University at Albany.

A longtime public servant, Shepherd sees infrastructure as a powerful tool for equity and environmental stewardship. Her FHA team won the public service award for using Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to modernize our roads, railroads, tunnels, bridges, and ports.

“Their diligence and hard work have resulted in equitable and sustainable programs that will improve our ability to compete globally and renew Americans’ faith that their government can deliver,” said Carlos Monje, DOT undersecretary.

She discusses her experiences here.

You have always wanted to serve the country – how did transportation become, pardon the pun, your route?

Transportation is much broader than my initial understanding of it was.  It is more than just steel and concrete.  I learned it is important to have mobility and accessibility, but is also essential to esteem the importance of people. For example, looking at the past and seeing how some roads and bridges separated communities and the previous cohesiveness of those communities made me understand there is a better and more inclusive way to build infrastructure without disrupting and disbanding communities.  I also learned there are ways to use highway transportation to reconnect communities.

Climate is also an essential consideration when constructing roads and bridges because automobiles produce greenhouse gases (GHG). These gases trap heat and cause the earth’s surface temperature to increase.  It is incumbent on all auto users to consider using cleaner technology that will reduce GHG.

This administration has dedicated an unprecedented amount of federal dollars to programs aimed to reverse this trend, including establishing a National Electric Vehicle Program, administering the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Grant Program, and the Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation Program. FHWA has also designated alternative fuel corridors to support the installation of EV charging, hydrogen, propane, and natural gas fueling infrastructure at strategic locations along major national highways.

How, if at all, does your identity as an African American woman shape your leadership role?

I think, as an African woman who has studied history, it makes me more aware of constructing highway transportation that is inclusive and not disruptive.  As a leader, I understand the importance of the people throughout this large agency and the work they perform.

I understand the need to keep my hands on the pulse of the agency to ensure the mental and physical stability of our staff.  I also understand the importance of succession planning, including equity, and preparing the workforce to assume senior-level positions, through training, mentoring, and rotation assignments.

You are a serious runner who takes part in 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons. Please share your regimen and how you fit it into your responsibilities at the FHWA.

In the past, I ran as much as 40+ miles a week. I also have run 20 marathons, and numerous 5ks, 10ks, and half-marathons.  However, I also have had three lumbar fusions, so I am on a much more modest pace and schedule these days than in the past.  Now, I try to get in 30+ miles of running weekly along with walking. I believe that there is a synergy between physical and mental stability and balance and that a person needs both to function well.

By Jane Gottlieb

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