Archive for April, 2011

My Personal Brand

A few months back, I started a process of branding myself. I did not get confused with many options. Only after a week long thought, I decided to go with Public Servant focusing on the transportation sector. It is a good fit to me as I am a state employee in Nevada. I work in highway infrastructure building and maintenance sector. All the highways are owned by federal, state, and local public agencies except the negligible miles of private roads. So public sector is inevitable in this industry. I am proud to be part of that community.

There are not many efforts in the public sector to brand its products and services. Also public sector is behind the rest of the world when it comes to branding. I did some research to explore the social media activities in the transportation agencies. The results were not satisfactory to me. Most of the tweets are from organizations – not from persons. There is no personal touch in those tweets. There is virtually no active blog though a lot of websites.

In my branding efforts, I am trying hard to reach public sector employees who are enthusiastic about social media and people who want to learn more on the transportation agencies and their products and services. During these days I learned a lot about social media and how to employ them for the professional and business purposes. I understood well about many-to-many communication.

Over the years there were several presences about me on the web. Most of them did not appear with my consent or my knowledge. I used to have a fear of online presence. I used to think that twitter is a celebrity thing. When I first got into the Facebook, I twisted my name so that it won’t appear on the name search. During the last few months my web presence increased tremendously. Nowadays I don’t bother about online presence and I feel happy about it.

Nevada State Employee Recognition Week, May 2 – 6, 2011

Nevada will join states across the nation in celebrating Public Service Recognition Week, May 2 – 6, 2011. This week is designated annually to celebrate the numerous contributions of our public employees and to educate the community on how they make life better for citizens. The Governor has issued a proclamation declaring the week of May 2 – 6, 2011 as Nevada State Employee Recognition Week. For more information please follow the link.

 

Public Servants

Who is a public servant? I define all the public sector employees whether they work for federal, state, or local Governments. I have seen some other definitions that include the politicians. Military people are usually not included in the public servants category. It is kind of contradictory to me, but military actions are uniquely labeled as military service. The employees of nonprofit organizations like American Red Cross are also not considered as public servants. There is an interesting article on a conservative website United Liberty. This article reflects the life of politicians and true public servants. The article is biased on political party line.

I am a fan of CNN news. David Gergen is one of the frequent analysts in many of the CNN news and opinion casts. I noticed a name stand Harvard-Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership behind him. So, I decided to check it out. I read few of their blogs and scanned through their website. It seems this center is focused on leadership in policy making and common good.  I should mention that their blog is very impressive and informative. Also many of the well-known economic and policy analysts, who often appear on the TV shows, teach or hold different positions in this center. My understanding is that this center does not focus of training the private industry people who want to be a CEO.  OK!!! That makes sense based on the name of the school.

The week of May 1-7 is public service recognition week. We celebrate honoring all public servants for their effort throughout the nation to provide essential services, solve and prevent serious problems, and help make sure our safety and advance the common good. Fifty years ago, in his state of the union address, President John F. Kennedy declared, “Let the public service be a proud and lively career. And let every man and woman who works in any area of our national government, in any branch, at any level, be able to say with pride and with honor in future years: I served the United States Government in that hour of our nation’s need”.

Civil Engineers

Civil engineering is the oldest engineering profession after military engineering. The profession got its name to distinguish non-military engineering from military engineering. The earliest practices of civil engineering can be traced back to more than 5000 years ago when people started to live in shelters. Over the years the engineering field expanded into Electrical, Electronics, Computer, Mechanical, Biomedical, Production, Materials, Chemical, and Petroleum etc. to better cater the growing population needs.

Civil engineers mainly deal with design, construction and maintenance of man-made and natural built environments. There are several major subdivisions in civil engineering namely, transportation, structural, Environmental, and geotechnical. These subdivisions have several specialized sub sections like surveying, earthquake, water resources, coastal, construction, urban, and traffic engineering. In the past few decades, the government and the people became more conscious about the environment. Many schools today offer an environmental engineering degree that focus on the environment. University of Nevada Reno started to offer environmental engineering degree less than ten years ago.

The first civil engineering institution, Institution of Civil Engineers was founded in London In 1818. The American Society of Civil Engineers was found in 1852 which is largest body that represents civil engineers in the United States. The first college to teach Civil Engineering in the United States was Norwich University. The first degree in Civil Engineering in the United States was awarded by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1835. The first such degree to a woman was granted by Cornell University to Nora Stanton Blatch in 1905.

I am a civil engineer. I specialized in transportation side of civil engineering. There are 278,400 Civil Engineers in the country. About a quarter of them work for government as I am. Bureau of Labor Statistics believes that civil engineer jobs will increase faster than the average for all occupations through 2018. The world’s wealthiest person Carlos Slim is a civil engineer by education.

Subsidies for Transit Services

Transit services are a must in some places to ensure the mobility. Also, we know that most of the transit services are operated by public agencies and they are not financially self-sufficient. The tax money is pumped into these systems in some or the other way. Most of these subsidies are from the highway users. We pay more gas and other fuel taxes than we needed to build and maintain highways. I am trying to explore the equity aspects of these subsidies.

The city transit riders are literally subsiding the sub-urban transit riders. It is mainly because the transit fares are flat in many areas. Similarly peak hour riders subsidize the off-peak hour riders. It is obvious that these two categories pay the same fare, but peak hour traveler experience uncomfortable crowded ride while off-peak rider enjoys a relaxed ride. Also the funds collected during the peak hour are used to run the off-peak time services.

The other interesting aspect is that a rail passenger enjoys more subsidies compare to a bus rider. It is mainly because of the high investment costs needed for the rail infrastructure. But, an average bus passenger is poorer than the average rail passenger. It is based on a nationwide study and in most places bus transit mainly serves the low-income people. That is not the case for rail or light rail services. They are established only if there is a must need for them. But, rail brings other benefits to the city it serves. It is fast. It can carry many passengers comfortably compare to bus services when the distance is not short.

Vehicle Miles Travel Fee

Many of us already know that we pay our highways use through gas and diesel taxes. The question is whether these fuel taxes are sustainable source of revenue in the long run to keep up our transportation system. Certainly No!!! Why? Vehicles are becoming more and more fuel-efficient. That means people are using less fuel thus less fuel tax, while their transportation needs do not go down. More electric cars are on the roads and they do not contribute anything towards the highways. The fuel taxes were not increased since 1993. Revenue reduction is not ignored by the transportation engineers. Many State and Local agencies are already working to address this issue.

Some States started to promote tolling. If you drive in San Fransisco bay area or in Los Angeles area, you would probably end up paying tolls at least once.  Texas started to installed smart license plate readers along the highways. When we drive through those areas the reader will read the license plate and at the end of the month we will get a billing statement from the state. The toll is calculated based on the miles driven of the highway. Nevada law prohibits tolling at any of our highways.

Many other states promote vehicle miles travel (VMT) fee. In this case, the miles driven are tracked using the odometer or some other devices. This study is still in its infant stage and so far it is not clear how this is going to go ahead. In this method, electric cars will pay their fare share towards the highways. Engineers want to explore more like congestion pricing when exploring a new methodology. Congestion pricing means that people who drive during the peak hours on a congested highway will pay more fees compare to off-peak driver who drive on a low volume road. The Whitehouse did not buy VMT fee idea .  In any case, there are a lot of hurdles on the way and this technology will not be in implementation stage within the next decade or more.

Toastmasters

I first heard about Toastmasters club about 10 years ago. I was a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno during that time. One of my friends, Veronica, told me about it. There was one club that convenes at the JTSU, then student union building, on Tuesdays at noon. I wanted to join the club, but I didn’t make time for it. Years passed away. Many things happened in my personal and professional life. I have completely forgotten about Toastmasters.

Last year, I attended the Leadership Academy of the Nevada Department of Transportation. During the discussion sessions, Ron Siegel, one of the managers,  at NDOT shared his experiences about the struggle he had in communicating with others. He finally joined a Toastmasters club and that helped him up-bring him to the front of the table. After hearing him, my good old memories started to flourish again and I started look for a club to join. I couldn’t find a club that meets at my convenience for a few months. It was a challenge for me as my work place is more than 40 miles from my home and I spend 13 hours a day for work and commute. Finally I found a club that meets at my convenient.  I found later on that two of my colleagues are already members of that club.

I joined the Toastmasters club about two month ago and already attended several meetings. As time passes I become more and more enthusiastic  about involving in the club. All the Toastmasters are just ordinary people. There is no professor to teach. There is no exam that grades our performance. Nobody watch our attendance. All the available members in a meeting share the activities. It is a learning experience by participating in the club engagements. It is not just speaking, we have to assume roles thus we are developing our leadership skills too. The Toastmasters International provides basic guidelines to go forward with the activities. A mentor was assigned to me to help me start engaging in the club activities. Again, she is my colleague at NDOT and she is there to help me. All we need is just a couple of hours a week to prepare for the meetings. It is a well  worth investment to improve our communication and leadership skills and to become a better person.