June 3, 2024
The USDOT-funded REAT Center at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and Florida A&M University focuses its engineering work on understanding and developing solutions for the unique transportation and mobility challenges faced by rural America. (By mikeby for AdobeStock)

The FAMU-FSU College of Engineering’s Rural Equitable and Accessible Transportation (REAT) Center recently hosted its First Annual UTC Conference on April 18-19, 2024, at the FAMU Grand Ballroom and the FSU Research Foundation Building.

Originally posted at eng.famu.fsu.edu

The two-day event facilitated an educational, informative and interactive workshop with discussions centered on better understanding rural populations’ transportation needs and community-specific factors affecting this critical issue. 

The REAT Center is a U.S. Department of Transportation-funded Tier-one University Transportation Center at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, led by professors Ren Moses and Eren Erman Ozguven. The lead institution is Florida A&M University, with Florida State University, Tallahassee Community College, Cleveland State University, Stony Brook University and the University of Washington-Tacoma serving as partner institutions. 

“The workshop brings together voices across multiple disciplines through a practitioner panel involving participants from various fields,” Moses, the director of the REAT Center, said. “It showcases the center’s focus on community and practice.” 


photo of conference attendees at white boards
Attendees of the inaugural REAT Conference included representation from federal agencies, university faculty, students and local experts. (Scott Holstein/FAMU-FSU College of Engineering)


The National Science Foundation and FAMU-FSU Engineering’s Resilient Infrastructure and Disaster Response (RIDER) Center co-sponsored the event. Students, faculty, stakeholders and community leaders gathered for strategic thinking and planning sessions focused on the access, equity, workforce development and resilient transportation needs of diverse rural populations and communities.


closeup photo of black female college student writing on a white board at conference
REAT Conference attendees brainstormed ideas on meeting rual community challenges in transportation and mobility using their own personal and institutional expertise. (Scott Holstein/FAMU-FSU College of Engineering)


One conference goal was to record and highlight the center’s research, accomplishments and efforts to align itself with the U.S. DOT Strategic Plan goals of, “equity, safety, economic strength, global competitiveness and transformation” of the transportation system. 

FAMU President Larry Robinson set the stage at the workshop by sharing his experience as a center director and emphasizing his view on the importance of the REAT Center and the need for grants to support similar facilities. He pointed out that one of FAMU’s most notable accomplishments has been its impact on the social mobility of its graduates and applauded the attendees for promoting a similar mission through the REAT Center by furthering transportation access in rural communities and underserved populations. 


Jeff Walters of the University of Washington Tacoma led an interactive workshop on developing the transportation workforce. Participants included faculty, students, government officials, industry representatives and other stakeholders. 

Ozguven, the associate director of the REAT Center, provided insight into the center’s transportation thrusts: resilience, safety, access and equity. The day ended with student presentations from all participating universities. 

The next day, the conference featured panel discussions that provided an interactive approach to meeting the transportation needs of diverse rural populations and communities. 

Alican Karaer, an associate data scientist with Iteris, Inc., moderated a panel to discuss the importance of collaborative efforts and activities transportation professionals pursue to address rural communities’ transportation needs and challenges. Panelists included Mark Hallenbeck, of Washington State Transportation Center (TRAC) at the University of Washington; Alma Tovar of Organizacion Latino Americana in New York; Tierra Bills from University of California L.A.; Simone Burns from Seminole County, Florida; and Thobias Sando from the University of North Florida. 


More than 60% of Florida is made up of rural communities and areas, and nationally, an estimated 60 million people—or one in five residents—live in rural America. The REAT Conference brought together experts from different fields to better understand the equity, access, and transportation needs of rural populations and communities. It facilitated new and innovative ideas for solving these challenges. The work is applicable for rural areas in Florida and nationwide.