Executive Spotlight: Jim Chodak, University of Rochester

Member Spotlights,
The University of Rochester is a private institution located in Rochester, New York. The University is the largest employer based in upstate New York and the seventh largest employer in the state.  Our diverse community includes more than 3,000 faculty, 12,000 students and, over 30,000 staff.  The University is a major research institution that includes River Campus with academic schools of higher education, the Eastman School of Music, Strong Memorial Hospital, and the Lab for Laser Energetics.  In 2019 the University paid $2.2 billion in wages and was responsible for $4.7 billion in direct spillover income, making the University an important economic engine for the Rochester region.

What are you and your organization seeking to achieve?

The University’s motto is Meliora, which means Ever Better. Here at the University of Rochester we all strive to be Ever Better, whether we are supporting students, patients, colleagues, or members of the community. Our efforts are focused on Learning, Healing, Creating, and Discovery. In Transportation and Parking, our goal is to safely and efficiently get our students, faculty, staff, patients, and visitors to their destinations on our campuses. Timely arrivals can have a direct impact on someone’s life.  We are often the first and last experience encountered by people coming to and from the University, and we want that to be a positive one.

How did you get to where you are today?

I started at the University in 1991 as a mail clerk with responsibility for metering outgoing mail.  I worked my way up in different departments and positions until I was promoted to Director of Transportation and Parking in 2017.  Over the years, I met and worked with many dedicated and talented people who were not only my colleagues but are also my friends.  It is the friendships developed at work with people who are working toward the same goal that makes work fun and interesting.  My greatest support system is my family.  My wife and kids are my main motivation in life.  Their support has given me the desire to grow both personally and professionally.

How have you seen the TDM industry change?

The most significant change I have seen in the TDM industry is the diversity of transportation opportunities.  The fossil fuel car has been the main choice of transportation for many decades, particularly in midsized cities.  There are now more transportation options that are becoming increasingly popular.  Roads are now being designed with bike lanes, bus lanes, and pedestrian areas. There is now a focus on sharing the road rather than designing for cars only.  Electric vehicles are becoming more popular and EV Charging Stations are being installed in our communities, including at our Universities and hospitals.  We now look at building parking garages in a way where they can be reused if demand for parking reduces. 

Where do you see the industry going in the next 10 years?

In the next 10 years, I think there will be more of a focus on safety and automated vehicles.  Our cars are already becoming smart, helping us change lanes or park.  In the future cars will become more efficient and automated.  How will roads adapt and share space not only with pedestrians, bikes, and buses but also with self-driving cars or buses?  Will there be dedicated lanes for self-driving vehicles?  I think the future of transportation is exciting.

What brought you to ACT? What has been the most memorable part of your involvement in ACT?

I attended the ACT conference NYC in 2019 to learn as much I could about transportation that related to Universities and medical centers. Like many, our parking supply exceeds demand and I was looking for ideas on how to address the problem rather than just building more lots.  I met other University Transportation Directors at the conference, and it was important for me to learn that we all have many of the same challenges and struggles.  I was also able to learn and share ideas about dealing with our transportation issues.

What keeps you motivated?

My motivation comes from my grandparents.  They were both survivors of Nazi concentration camps in World War II and came to the United States with nothing.  They built a life for their kids and grandkids while never forgetting what happened to them. They were always grateful for the opportunity of a new life.  I take their life experience and stories to heart. Whenever I am struggling or have a bad day, I think about my grandparents and know that if they can survive their experience in a concentration camp, I can deal with my current issue. It helps me to put things in perspective. 

What has been the most fulfilling moment in your career?

Anytime someone in my team receives a promotion or moves into the career path of their dreams is fulfilling.  Helping people get the opportunity to grow in education or experience provides them a path to a career where they can use their talents and knowledge to be successful and happy.

Any additional thoughts to share?

The University of Rochester is excited to be a part of ACT. I have joined with my two colleagues, Andrea Walton, Transportation Manager, and Tracey Austin, Transportation Coordinator.  We look forward to meeting and networking with other members as we work together through the exciting changes in the world of transportation!