Shirley McCall recently retired as director of Cardozo’s TransSTEM Academy. (Photo by Andrea “Aunni” Young)

The TransSTEM Academy, the District’s leading secondary school focusing on the study of transportation, held its 25th anniversary with leaders in the field discussing the school’s future.

The Academy, on the Francis L. Cardozo Education campus in Northwest D.C., held its anniversary and a graduation ceremony on June 21. Shirley McCall opened the first transportation studies program in D.C. in 1991. The program has played a role in a number of its students getting scholarships to colleges and careers in the transportation field.

This year, 20 students graduated from the program and their accomplishments were celebrated by U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Victor Mendez. “Many skilled workers are reaching the end of their careers and we need you to become the transportation leaders of tomorrow,” he said to the audience of 60 people. “We need engineers, pilots, computer scientists, plus lawyers and accountants, also.”

The academy was designed to allow students to learn about, visit, and work at transportation sites. Students receive a certificate of completion at the end of the program and earn a high school diploma from Cardozo.

The academy received support from the U.S. Transportation Department, the Federal Transit Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, and the District Department of Transportation in terms of funds, internship opportunities, and employment possibilities.

Rodney Slater, the transportation secretary from 1997-2001 under President Bill Clinton, said the academy has come a long way since its founding. “In 1991, there were 30 students in this program and now you have an alumni organization of 750 people,” Slater said. “It is programs like this that start out students on a concrete career and we celebrate this achievement and celebrate you the students.”

Slater told the AFRO that with new technologies such as self-driving cars emerging on the market, academy students will be needed more than ever. “That is the future and companies like Google, Apple, and Amazon are getting into those spaces,” he said. “It is exciting and those opportunities can be created by these graduates.”

Favor Ogu, 2016 class valedictorian, spoke  her time as an academy student. “This program has been like a second home to me,” Ogu said. “When I was studying here, Shirley McCall was with me and I was not alone.”

The students will have post-graduation opportunities ranging from attending the United States Air Force Academy to four-year institutions like Florida A&M University, and a few will go into the military. “Don’t try to be someone else, be yourself.” the former secretary said. “Fate favors the bold and so be bold and do what you want and not what someone else is doing.”

There was skepticism among some in the District’s education establishment when McCall started the academy at Cardozo instead of at Woodrow Wilson or Dunbar High Schools. She dismissed the naysayers. “I saw a need at Cardozo and I met it,” she said. “Cardozo deserved this academy. I don’t let people tell me what I can’t do.”

Frazier O’Leary taught at Cardozo for over four decades and said McCall has been an influence at the school. “It will be hard to imagine Cardozo without Shirley McCall,” he said. “We’re going to miss her so much for she is an inspiration for students and adults.”

McCall said that even though she is retiring, she will still be around. “I have all the confidence in the new academy director Cheryl Rodgers,” she said. “She is very able and she is going to see that the academy continues to grow.”

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