Clemson launches first-of-its-kind Master of Transportation Safety Administration
Age 18 marks a turning point in many people’s lives. Kim Alexander was no different. A stand-out athlete and point guard on the girls’ basketball team, she had recently earned a scholarship to attend a local college.
That all changed in one moment. In May of 1979, Alexander was involved in a single-vehicle, run-off-of-the-road crash in Oconee County, South Carolina. Doctors told her family she had sustained a spinal cord injury, leaving her as a C5/6 quadriplegic.
Today, Alexander serves as the founder and chair of Clemson’s Institute for Global Road Safety and Security and directs the first-of-its-kind Master of Transportation Safety Administration. The work of Alexander and her colleagues not only impacts the lives of their students, but it also makes a difference for motorists everywhere, delivering safer roads and more secure transportation systems nationwide.
Alexander’s journey to this point was not a straight one — hospitals and rehabilitation centers helped her learn to navigate the world in a wheelchair and consider her future. She began sharing her story with teenagers in high schools and at conferences, focusing on making wise decisions, living safe lives and overcoming obstacles. Questioning how she could make a lasting difference, she followed her brother, Steve Alexander ’79, to Clemson, where she earned a B.S. in marketing, M.Ed. in guidance and counseling, and Ed.D. in curriculum development, risk perception and educational leadership. In 1990, she was hired as a program information coordinator in the Department of 4-H and Youth Development. This six-month grant led to others and a position as an Extension associate and director in 1993.
“I wanted to do something very creative in education and something that, regardless of my physical condition, I could sit around the table with others, and we could do it together,” said Alexander.
Professional development in transportation safety has long been an issue, and this program is unique in addressing that need.
More than 40 years after her crash, Alexander is clinical associate professor, founder and chair of Clemson’s Institute for Global Road Safety and Security. She has resumed her point-guard role as director of the first-of-its-kind MTSA degree program, which launched in 2019 and graduated its first cohort in August.
Developed in coordination with a technical advisory committee of prominent national leaders in the field of road safety, and offered exclusively online, MTSA is a two-year, 30-credit hour, non-thesis interdisciplinary program that addresses the need for a road safety workforce capable of deploying evidence-based strategies and best practices supported by ongoing research. With the rise of autonomous vehicles and connected infrastructure, the world of road safety is even more crucial. The goal is to build safer communities, which will reduce vehicle crashes and ultimately save lives.
“The significance of the MTSA program cannot be understated,” said Elizabeth Baker, regional administrator emeritus of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Professional development in transportation safety has long been an issue, and this program is unique in addressing that need.”
With specific expertise in a variety of disciplines and professional backgrounds, MTSA students include members of law enforcement, emergency management, education, planning and design, public health, injury prevention, communications, marketing, public policy, driver and vehicle services, transportation finance, and grants administration. Jennifer Homendy, recently confirmed as chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, is in the MTSA program.
“Sitting in this wheelchair has given me a different vision than I probably would have had if I had been on my feet,” said Alexander. “It’s given me a clear perspective that life is fragile and that bringing together people who have the same passion and commitment to saving lives can create something that will leave a lasting impact. I truly believe this program will result in a much safer world.”