NJDOT’s Research Showcase Recognized as Best Virtual Event by AASHTO Communications Committee

The AASHTO 2023 Best Virtual Event Award recognizes a special event that is held virtually or that includes a virtual component.

AASHTO’s Committee on Transportation Communications – known as TransComm – sponsors an annual skills awards competition to promote the sharing of best practices and to recognize outstanding communications efforts. In October 2023, NJDOT Bureau of Research representatives Amanda Gendek and Pragna Shah accepted the 2023 AASHTO TransComm Skills Award in the Virtual Events Category for NJDOT’s 24th Annual Research Showcase. 

The NJDOT’s Bureau of Research Annual Research Showcase has been held since 1999 and provides an opportunity for the state’s transportation community to experience the broad scope of research initiatives and technology transfer activities conducted by their university and consultant partners. In addition to convening transportation professionals and researchers, the Showcase helps to emphasize NJDOT goals and objectives, share knowledge, and recognize the outstanding and inspiring research being done in the state.

The threat of COVID-19 transmission during the pandemic led to the Research Showcase being held fully online in 2020 and 2021. These fully virtual events resulted in a much larger audience, and even attracted attendees from other state Departments of Transportation. In 2022, as in-person events returned, the NJDOT Bureau of Research sought to find an approach that would maintain that larger audience base.

Amanda Gendek (left) and Pragna Shah (right) of the Bureau of Research with the award.

The 24th Annual Research Showcase, held October 26, 2022, was the first “hybrid” Research Showcase held by NJDOT and allowed individuals to attend the event online, while also allowing those able to gather, network and celebrate in person. Convening in a hybrid format required some additional coordination with the event planning team from Rutgers and Civic Eye Collaborative, a media consultant firm to live-stream the day’s proceedings. In total, 117 virtual participants and 190 in-person participants attended the day-long event.

Whether attending “in-person” or “virtually,” the audience heard from the keynote speaker and panelists on the major theme of the event “Advancing Equity in Transportation.” 

The Showcase theme, “Advancing Equity in Transportation” served as the organizing framework for the keynote speaker and panelists during the morning plenary session. The keynote speaker, Keith Benjamin, Associate Administrator for Highway Policy and External Affairs at the FHWA, spoke about the USDOT’s efforts to advance equity, highlighting the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act and various funding and program initiatives to address equity in transportation planning, project development, and other activities, among other topics. A panel session then explored the perspectives of representatives from NJDOT, county government, and transportation management associations (TMAs) who shared examples of the equity initiatives underway in their organizations. Questions and discussion invited panels to further reflect on the challenges and opportunities for advancing equity in transportation in New Jersey.  

The Showcase included afternoon breakout sessions featuring research presentations that continued to address the equity theme as well as other mobility, infrastructure, safety topics in transportation being performed by research faculty, staff, and students and NJ agencies. Several awards were also presented in recognition of research accomplishments and implemented innovations. For a full description of the 24th Annual Research Showcase event, see this recap here.

The 24th Annual Research showcase was recognized with the AASHTO Award for its efforts to enhance accessibility through the virtual platform. In addition to live-streaming the plenary and breakout sessions, the video recordings of the event were posted on NJDOT’s Tech Transfer Video Library and all those who registered were notified of its availability — whether attending in-person or online. Subsequent direct email communications and social media posts have further broadened the audience of potential viewers. To watch recordings from this, and other Research Showcase events, visit the NJDOT Tech Transfer Video Library.

The theme of the 24th Annual Research Showcase was selected in recognition of the significant Federal and state efforts underway to advance equity; Executive Order 13985 established a “whole government approach” to advancing equity and opportunity at the Federal level (left). Dr. Shawn Wilson, then-Secretary of Transportation in Louisiana, headlined a roundtable discussion, “State DOTs: Creating Pathways to Equity” at the Transportation Research Board’s 2022 Annual Meeting (right).