Economist member. “Gloria is a key player in implementing policy which helps make our businesses attractive and accessible locations to stop and shop.”
A LONG AND WINDING ROAD
The toughest part of Jeffs career may have been getting her foot in the door. There were very few black women engineers to serve as role models when she was starting out. No wonder her parents urged her to take up teaching as a career. But Jeff followed her own path and enrolled in the University of Michigan’s engineering program. But when she failed to meet the university’s academic standards at the end of her sophomore year, the college transferred her into liberal arts and suggested she choose another course of study. Jeff ignored this advice, regrouped and worked harder to be readmitted in to engineering.
After completing her undergraduate degree in civil engineering, Jeff began working on her master’s in urban planning and landed a summer internship working with the Urban Mass Transit Administration in Chicago. The job made such an impact that she pursued a dual master’s, combining civil engineering with a transportation specialty.
In 1976, she worked for the Southeast Michigan Transportation Authority before moving to the Michigan Department of Transportation, where she spent the next 12 years. While in Michigan, Jeff”tended to be the dominant person in any meeting that she was involved in,” says her thensupervisor Robert Adams, former chief deputy director of the Michigan Department of Transportation. It was her take-charge attitude that made her stand out, notes Adams. “And it’s that attitude that contributes to her effectiveness in any position that she’s in. She always delivered what was expected of her.”
Jeff had been serving as deputy director for the department for almost three years when she learned she was being considered for the associate administrator slot at the Federal Highway Administration. Rodney E. Slater, federal highway administrator of the FHA, says Michigan was the perfect training ground for Jeff; there, she dealt with meeting the competing needs of the inner city versus that of the surrounding suburban areas.
“That Gloria had these issues to grapple with and was still very much involved in her community really made her stand out,” says Slater, who himself was recently nominated by President Clinton to head the Transportation Department (see “Joining the Inner Circle,” Newspoints, March 1997). Before she came to Washington, Jeff was doing daily on a local level what she now does on a national one. “She was interfacing with the people who are impacted by the transportation decisionmaking process, and getting them involved in it, notes Slater.”
Today her aggressive approach has helped the department keep on top of global transportation trends. Even though the two do occasionally bump heads, Slater acknowledges that “with Gloria, it’s always a frank giveand-take that ultimately helps the agency because it leads us to innovative responses to challenges.”
The best part of her job, says Jeff, is using her knowledge of transportation to make sure that travel is easy and access
ible for all segments of society–from