News | Ford's City of Tomorrow Symposium Introduces Students to the Future of Transportation Innovation

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by By: Micha Kempe, USC Class of 2019

On Thursday, May 23rd I, along with thirty other transportation students and recent graduates, had the honor of attending Ford Motor Company’s City of Tomorrow Symposium in the Los Angeles Arts District. The symposium gathered entrepreneurs, elected officials, state and local department of transportation leaders, academics, designers, developers, community voices and more to address today’s leading mobility challenges and find solutions. This experience was unique and particularly valuable because it brought diverse perspectives together to collaborate and tackle key issues surrounding the future of cities – many expected in just a few short years.

The symposium showcased critical ways today's solutions and innovations are improving communities - making lives better and creating greater access for all. It is said that by 2050 nine in ten Americans will be living in cities. Therefore, it is obviously important for the current generation to prepare for the increasing demands cities will endure.

The student experience began with a private breakfast where student attendees could network one-on-one with Ford’s leaders. Following, a keynote conversation with Hannah Beachler, Academy Award-winning production designer of the film Black Panther kicked-off the symposium with a stimulating look into how she designed the future city of Wakanda in Marvel’s Black Panther. She stressed that future leaders must “think outside of the box - use the things you hear today to choose a better tomorrow.”

Throughout the day, the students were offered break-out sessions to meet in small groups with professionals in their specific interest areas. A highlight of these sessions was meeting Ford Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board Bill Ford, the direct descendant of founder Henry Ford.  Ford spoke personally with the students in attendance, sharing with them his unwavering vision for the company he has held since joining the Board more than 30 years ago.  “I believe the purpose of a company is to make people’s lives better,” he notes. “That is how we became great in the past and it is how we will become even greater in the future.”  Under his leadership, Ford Motor Company was awarded 2014 Best Global Green Brand in the world in 2014, and named one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies for nearly a decade.  We were thrilled to meet him and that he graciously joined us for a group photo to remember the day.

Student attendees pose for a photo with Ford Motor Company's Executive Chairman, Bill Ford

Among others, students also had the opportunity to meet with Marcy Klevorn, Chief Transformation Officer of Ford Motor Company, who leads efforts to refine the company’s corporate governance systems, facilitate faster adoption of agile teams across the business, and ensure process improvements across the enterprise. Klevorn was generous in answering numerous student questions, including explaining in detail how Ford Motor Company intends to develop relationships with cities and work with local communities in advancing their new technologies. Klevorn also noted Ford’s purchase of Spin, an e-scooter company, as an effort to establish strong ties with local governments on the topic of micro-mobility before expanding upon those relationships in order to implement future autonomous vehicle technology.

Student's networking session with Marcy Klevorn

Throughout the day, we learned from insightful and informative takes on what the leaders of the mobility industry are thinking and how technology is rapidly changing. Popular sessions offered included talks on the Crowded Curb, Robotics in the City, Power to the Passengers, On-Demand Urban Aviation, Humanity in Autonomy, Taking Back the Streets, Electric Vehicles, Innovation in Transportation, and Big Data. University of California – Irvine Professor Amelia Regan praised the symposium as an important introduction for students into the wide world of transportation and thanked Ford and USC METRANS for making student attendance possible. “Right now the intersection of planning and technology is where it’s happening,” she remarked. Forget modeling and optimization... this is where planning meets the road.”

For me, the most interesting part of the symposium programming was a conversation between Bill Ford and three leading innovators from ground, air, and space transformation. These guests are not only disrupting the industry, but reimagining transportation as a whole. The panel included Bryan Salesky with Argo AI, Dr. Sara Spangelo with Swarm Technologies, and Mark Groden with Skyryse. They examined the pitfalls and challenges of developing a successful start-up in the industry of mobility, and all three panelists stressed the importance of working closely with regulators, testing early and often, staying true to the customer, and choosing a business partner which shares your core values.

I would like to end by thanking, once again, Ford Motor Company, the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center (PSR UTC) and METRANS Transportation Center who made my and other students’ experience possible

About the Author:

Micha Kempe earned a Bachelor of Science in Real Estate Development with a minor in Business Administration from University of Southern California. Kempe founded the USC Mobility Lab, a collaboration with METRANS and USC Transportation focusing on analyzing mobility data and solving transportation problems and received the Order of the Laurel and the Palm upon graduation, the highest honor accorded to less than one percent of undergraduates completing their programs of study, recognizing leadership that touches multiple facets of university life.