January 26, 2023
CMU alumnus Ngani Ndimbie tackles transportation issues to create a more equitable world
By Tina Tuminella
Carnegie Mellon University alumnus Ngani Ndimbie has been a self-professed “transportation nerd” for the past decade.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, she loved getting around “by non-motorized means” — AKA walking everywhere to get to her friends.
During her undergraduate studies at the University of Florida, she marveled at Gainesville, Florida’s incredible bike infrastructure and became a commuter cyclist.
This decision made her acutely aware of the expense of car ownership — a key issue of social equity and transportation — and put her on the road to improving transportation challenges for underinvested and underserved communities.
Using her master’s degree in public policy and management from Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, she combines policy analysis, legislative strategy, organizational strategy and communications to translate ideas and values into actionable policy.
“You cannot leave Heinz without recognizing the importance of change management,” says Ngani, who graduated in 2018.
“The way you get organizations to change should be a very thoughtful process, or else it can go awry easily. Getting organizations to change is not easy, and we learned various strategies to accomplish the monumental task and create policies and organizations.”
“I focused on topics like voting rights, criminal justice and police accountability. Often, I would hear, intertwined in those conversations, the ways in which a lack of access to transportation intersected with those concerns. I consistently learned how this lack of access shaped people’s days and their overall economic freedom and opportunity.”
From Vehicles to Environmental Change
In late 2022, Ngani started a new position as a senior consultant at High Street, a company that seeks to solve transportation problems, after roles at BikePGH and Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Transportation (PennDOT).
Her work in all those roles and her desire to work for change is informed by her time as a community organizer for ACLU Pennsylvania and the Black Political Empowerment Project in Pittsburgh.
“I focused on topics like voting rights, criminal justice and police accountability,” Ngani says. “Often, I would hear, intertwined in those conversations, the ways in which a lack of access to transportation intersected with those concerns. I consistently learned how this lack of access shaped people’s days and their overall economic freedom and opportunity.”
The lack of access to transportation by underserved communities led to her work steering PennDOT's Dismantling Systemic Racism and Inequities Report. This report integrated disability accommodations into transformational technologies and was recognized by a PennDOT Star of Excellence Award.
In 2021, she shifted into a new role as the DEP’s Western Region Coordinator for the Office of Environmental Justice.
“It was a big change for me, but it perfectly matched the interests and skills I’d developed at Heinz,” Ngani says. “There are so many ties between environmental justice and transportation with its pollution issues, and the range of issues at the DEP is so much wider. DEP alone manages air, waste, radiation, abandoned mines, brownfields and so much more.”
During a year-long process at DEP, she was part of a team who updated Pennsylvania’s DEP environmental justice policy for the first time in 20 years. Ngani designed their public outreach strategies — setting specific goals, prioritizing outreach communication and extending the public comment period in meetings.
“These strategies weren’t brand new, but they were fully written down and advertised more,” Ngani says. “We did as much as possible so as not to leave anything to chance.”
Her team also developed a “road show,” to raise awareness of issues and to encourage the public to participate in policy development. The goal was to holistically involve the DEP in initiatives and intertwine environmental justice policies into climate action.
“It feels very fulfilling when I’m able to connect people to the information they need about their health or safety concerns,” Ngani says.
“My Methods of Policy Analysis course with (Adjunct Professor of Public Policy and Management) Harold Miller was perfect for me. Essentially, he taught a boot camp on what my next job would be. It covered the basics of succeeding in the workplace as both manager and employee, while emphasizing the need to understand the dynamics of a particular workplace.”
Heinz Sight is 20/20
Ngani remembers her initial interest in Heinz College’s programs.
“For a string of years in my twenties, I consistently lived with ‘Heinzer’ roommates and colleagues,” Ngani says. “I took note of their ability to look at things with their data-centric approach, plus I saw the technical analysis offered in their coursework.”
Once at CMU, she learned those valuable, career-impacting lessons, too.
“My Methods of Policy Analysis course with (Adjunct Professor of Public Policy and Management) Harold Miller was perfect for me,” Ngani says. “Essentially, he taught a boot camp on what my next job would be.”
Her Organizational Design and Implementation course surprised her with the valuable skills she says she now uses often.
“It covered the basics of succeeding in the workplace as both manager and employee, while emphasizing the need to understand the dynamics of a particular workplace,” Ngani says. “It’s become vital in my career, and I’m certainly very happy to have proven wrong about it.”
Perhaps most vital to her road ahead, she was a Women of Transportation fellow in CMU’s Traffic21 transportation research institute, a learning lab for problem solvers and thought leaders led by Executive Director Stan Caldwell.
"Ngani's experience is an ideal example of our vision for that fellowship, which is supported by the Hillman Foundation and the U.S. Department of Transportation's University Transportation Centers program,” Stan says.
“The fellowship immersed Ngani into the world of transportation where she then pursued a career applying her policy education and passion for public service, bringing a much-needed diverse perspective to the transportation industry."
She says the multidisciplinary approach utilized at Traffic21 was ahead of the transportation industry.
“Everyone there understood that problems require multiple perspectives and expertise,” Ngani says.
You need to have people who understand policy, people who understand human behavior and people who recognize the increasing need for computer science, robotics and Intelligent Transportation Systems.”
“Great offerings like this at CMU helped set me up for success now and in the future.”