Trailblazers in Michigan transportation

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Manage episode 291424860 series 2920850
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In observance and reflection on Black History Month, this week’s podcast features conversations with two people who served the State of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) for four decades.

First, Myron Frierson, who retired as MDOT director of the Bureau of Finance in 2019, talks about what he learned during his career in transportation, working on the administration of contracts. He later worked on property acquisitions in MDOT’s Real Estate division and eventually returned to Finance.

He talks about ascending to head an MDOT division when he was only in his early 30s. He oversaw financial operations, including accounting, budget planning, distributing federal funds to local road agencies, and other policies.

He recalls many days early on when he was the only minority in a meeting. But he says the state and MDOT helped advance women and minorities in management and launch careers elsewhere.

Being a good listener was a key to his success, he says, and something he encouraged as a mentor.

“Try to understand a person’s rationale for making a particular decision.”

Later, Rita Screws relates her nearly 40 years of experiences in transportation, coming to MDOT as a youth employee, thinking she would pursue other careers.

As she wrote in an essay about her experience:

"My first co-op season started in May 1982… almost 39 years ago! When I accepted the offer for the general engineer position in June 1984, my thoughts were, 'I might as well work for MDOT now and take my time exploring other career options.' That was my plan. Oh, well; there are plans we have for ourselves, and there are plans the Giver of Life has for us. They often are not the same!"

Proud of being born and raised in Detroit, she talks about spending her professional career in the city. Working on projects in construction and ascending to be the manager of the Detroit Transportation Service Center, Rita felt an obligation to knock down the myths and perceptions about Detroit.

She counts her ability to connect with others and work with people from a variety of backgrounds and interests, regardless of status, as a superpower, helping her mediate and find resolutions to disputes.

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