"Capital Success" SC State Alumna Credits Master of Transportation Degree Program for Achievements

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

LaTonya PeeplesOnce LaTonya Peeples graduated from SC State University in 2004 with her bachelor’s degree in computer science, she wasn’t quite sure what her next move would be.  Her mind was pressed with questions on whether she should continue her educational journey or seek a career in her area of study. After much pondering and consideration from others, Peeples decided to seek a master’s degree in transportation at her alma mater.

“I am the type of person that enjoys trying new things,” says Peeples.  “After I started hearing a lot about SC State’s Master of Transportation Degree program and then reading more information about it, I decided to give transportation a try and I loved it from day one.”

Upon obtaining her master’s degree in May 2008, Peeples worked as a graduate assistant within SC State’s James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center (JECUTC), assisting with transportation workshops and conferences under the direction of Lamar Tisdale, technology transfer and training coordinator at SC State. Tisdale encouraged Peeples to seek a transportation career with the federal government, something she never envisioned.  After heeding his advice and completing an eight page application, in addition to writing a one page essay on why she wanted to work in the transportation field, Peeples was offered a job with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in Washington, D.C. This opportunity came just three months after obtaining her transportation degree, a process that normally takes at least six months.

Although the Neeses, S.C. native originally hoped to land a job within the southeast region to remain closer to home, she quickly grasped the idea that moving to the capital of the United States wouldn’t be that bad after all.  “At first I was a little nervous.  I was like wow, all the way in Washington, D.C., but I told myself it was a great opportunity.  You always have to learn to adjust to new things and get accustomed to a new environment,” says Peeples.

The lengthy and rather tedious job process was worth it, Peeples says.  In addition to a generous salary and great benefits, she received assistance with travel and moving expenses, money transfers, and was welcomed to an apartment that was set-up prior to her arrival. Since obtaining her position two years ago, she has received three salary increases based on her job performance and enhanced research skills.

 “It is really a great experience to work for the federal government. I was especially grateful to be able to start my career at the age of 25. I am thankful to Mr. Tisdale for providing the necessary support I needed to move in the right direction.”

As a transportation program analyst, Peeples is responsible for researching transportation grants received from various regions throughout the east coast. Additionally, she ensures requested areas qualify for rural transportation needs and prepares grants for approval by the FTA.  In her role, Peeples is also required to participate in professional development programs which require her to conduct on-site transportation research studies.

As a part of FTA’s professional development program, Peeples decided to assist SC State with the Anderson County transportation feasibility study.  In March 2010, SC State was awarded a $50,000 grant from the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT)-Mass Transit Division, to investigate the feasibility of providing public transit services in Anderson County, S.C. Upon implementation, the public transit service will provide citizens with economic and environmental benefits, fuel cost savings, and links to Clemson Area Transit (CAT) and Greenville’s transit system. During her two-month study, Peeples will assess the transportation needs of citizens within Anderson County.  She will also ensure that the right projections and justifications are met for the proposed transit system.  Upon returning to Washington, D.C., Peeples will present her findings in a report, which will be used to support the basis of the transportation grant.  

“We are very proud of LaTonya and excited to have her contribute to the Anderson County transportation feasibility study,” says Tisdale, who serves as co-principal investigator of the grant.  “LaTonya is the epitome of the type of students we seek for the Master of Transportation program.  She did extremely well in her classes, always eager to help others. She was referred to an opportunity and met all of the requirements necessary,” noted Tisdale.

The Anderson County transportation feasibility study grant is the third of its kind to be awarded to SC State.  In 2007, the JECUTC was awarded its first $50,000 grant to conduct a transportation feasibility study for Orangeburg/Calhoun Counties Transit system.  Two years later, in June 2009, a second $50,000 grant was awarded to conduct a transportation feasibility study for Laurens County transit system. Today, Orangeburg and Calhoun counties have their first transit system which includes more than 20 buses that operate five main routes. Laurens County’s transit system is expected to implement transportation services to citizens in early 2011.

Although the transportation industry has been around for quite some time, it has just recently become an academic discipline. SC State established its Master of Transportation program in 2003 and currently enrolls 17 graduate students getting ready for their road to success, just like Peeples.

When offering career advice, Peeples says she would tell others who are interested in a career in transportation to take advantage of the many opportunities it presents.  “There is plenty of high demand, good paying careers in the transportation industry,” says Peeples. “I have two daughters that I know watch my every move. This is one of the reasons why I try to set examples for young people,” she added.  “Always strive for your goals no matter what, and don’t allow others to tell you that you can’t do something or question your abilities.  Allow good opportunities that come into your life to speak for you.”

For more information on SC State’s Master of Transportation Degree program, contact Lamar Tisdale at (803) 536-4532, or via email at ltisdale@scsu.edu.