Toddy Thomas Middle School’s “Small Steps, Big Difference” Wins Garrett Morgan Sustainable Transportation Competition

You are here

Mineta Transportation Institute-sponsored event featured US Deputy Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey Rosen
May 7, 2018
San Francisco, CA

Toddy Thomas Middle School from Fortuna, CA won the 2018 Garrett Morgan Sustainable Transportation Competition with their piezoelectric project titled “Small Steps, Big Difference.” Sponsored by the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI), the Garrett Morgan Competition fosters student interest in transportation-related careers. Using the MTI Teacher’s Guide, and guided by their sponsor, Caltrans District 1, Toddy Thomas presented a project that would harness the energy of the human step to power their school bus.

Students participated via video conference sites at the US Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C. and at Caltrans District Offices. Students heard from transportation leaders including US Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary (ret.) Norman Y. Mineta, USDOT Deputy Secretary Jeffrey Rosen, Caltrans Deputy Director of Administration Cris Rojas, APTA Senior Director of Educational Services Joseph Niegoski, and AASHTO Director of Engineering and Technical Services King Gee.

Secretary Mineta offered the students words of wisdom regarding the importance of their name and reputation while Deputy Secretary Rosen spoke about the humble beginnings of Garrett Morgan, reminding students that a difficult past does not define one’s success in the future. MTI Executive Director, Dr. Karen Philbrick reminded students that the transportation industry needs individuals from a variety of educational backgrounds.

Students from the Toddy Thomas team will travel to San Jose June 23rd to receive their award at the MTI Annual Award and Convocation Celebration Banquet. The banquet is attended by national and state transportation leaders, Secretary Mineta, Caltrans officials, and transportation industry executives who come to celebrate the success of students during all phases of their transportation career education.

The Toddy Thomas team, led by their teacher Ms. Rachel Gallani, was commended for its ingenuity in creating a living lab out of their school to collect the necessary data that their piezoelectric project required. Additionally the team was recognized by the judges for their knowledgeable responses during the question and answer portion of the competition.

In second place, and also presenting a piezoelectric project, was Frick Impact Academy in Oakland, CA who were sponsored by Caltrans District 4 and led by their teacher, Ms. Charlotte Kishi. Their project, “Piezo Power: Sustainable Urban Development,” focused on a high traffic area along Foothill Blvd. in Oakland. The students proposed piezoelectric walkways that would harness the power of pedestrians while keeping in mind public safety.

“I am so impressed with the middle school students in MTI’s 2018 competition, they exemplify the innovative thinking needed to lead the transportation systems of the 21st century” said Secretary Norman Mineta, capturing the sentiment of several of the transportation professionals in the room.


Each year members of the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) Board of Trustees sponsor middle school classes around the country for a sustainable transportation study unit. The curriculum is developed by faculty at San José State University’s College of Education, and the students create a sustainable transportation project based on what they have learned. The project is presented at a national videoconference competition featuring representatives from the US Department of Transportation and other transportation leaders. The competition is named for Garrett Morgan, the son of former slaves, who went on to become a successful businessman in Ohio. He was the award-winning inventor of the gas mask and the first practical traffic signal. The MTI program is a complementary element of the US Department of Transportation’s Garrett A. Morgan Technology and Transportation Futures Program.

Toddy Thomas Middle School Team
From left to right: Mariela Ocegueda, Elizabeth VanBlarcom, Lily Sweaney, and Mason Melendy​


The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) conducts research, education, and information transfer programs regarding surface transportation policy and management issues, especially related to transit. The Institute is funded through the US Department of Transportation, the US Department of Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants. The internationally respected members of the MTI Board of Trustees represent all major surface transportation modes. MTI, the lead institute for the four-university Mineta Consortium for Transportation Mobility, is affiliated with San Jose (CA) State University’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business. Visit



Irma Garcia, MTI Communications & Workforce Development Coordinator



Contact Us

SJSU Research Foundation   210 N. 4th Street, 4th Floor, San Jose, CA 95112    Phone: 408-924-7560   Email: