Back in 1904, the Iowa State Highway Commission (ISHC) was created as part of the Iowa State College in Ames. In 1913, the ISHC was reorganized as a separate state agency (now known as the Iowa Department of Transportation). Four Iowans were prominent in its creation: Anson Marston, Thomas H. McDonald, Thomas R. Agg, and Roy W. Crum. All four would go on to gain national prominence with the development of the Washington, D.C.-based Highway Research Board (HRB), now called the Transportation Research Board (TRB).
Crum, a 1907 engineering graduate of Iowa State College, started his career as a professor at the school. In 1919, he was tapped to become the materials and testing engineer at the fledgling ISHC. By 1928, his renown for research had grown nationwide and he became the director of HRB, a position he would hold until his death in 1951.
Crum accomplished many feats in his 23 years as HRB director. These included a partnership with the American Association of State Highway Officials (now the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) that continues to be strong today. This partnership with ASSHO led to roadside development and a census of highway research projects that provided a basis for partnership projects throughout the United States.
During his tenure Crum led the HRB in its mission to identify the nation’s most pressing transportation research needs, coordinate research efforts, reduce duplication, and disseminate findings efficiently.
Fast forward to 2016. Another Iowa engineer has been recognized as a leader in transportation research and was recently presented a TRB award named for Roy W. Crum.
Sandra Larson, director of the Iowa DOT’s Systems Operations Bureau, accepted the award for outstanding achievement in highway research. According to the TRB website, “Outstanding achievement consists of the performance of distinguished service, the production of fundamental or developmental research, or the administration, promotion, or fostering of outstanding research that in the judgment of the Executive Committee is worthy of the award.”
Larson, a 28-year veteran of the Iowa DOT, has served in many capacities at the agency, including Research and Technology Bureau director, state bridge engineer, resident construction engineer, and bridge design engineer. Like Crum, Larson is a graduate of Iowa State University.
“When I was contacted by Neil Pedersen, the executive director of TRB, about this award,” said Larson, “I was surprised by the call and then humbled by the honor. I did some digging to find out more about Roy W. Crum. What I found makes the honor really special since he was an Iowan with the goal of making transportation better, safer, and more accessible, first here in our state and then in the nation.”
Much like Crum, Larson has spent her career finding ways to make Iowa’s transportation system better. Over her time at the Iowa DOT, Larson’s expertise has also been utilized at the national level as she has taken on several leadership positions on various committees at TRB and AASHTO. In addition to leading these efforts, she has also been part of more than 20 TRB panels, committees, and task forces.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have the support of the Iowa DOT in serving on these national committees,” said, Larson. “My criteria in participating on any of these panels or committees is that it will bring value back to Iowa. Everything I’ve been able to do with TRB and AASHTO must have an agency or public benefit that I can bring home. To me, it’s all about making a difference in Iowa for Iowans.”
One proud Iowan who was able to be with Larson as she received the Roy W. Crum award was her husband, Gene. Larson said, “It was so nice that Gene was able to be there with me. Your family doesn’t necessarily know what you do at work, so it was neat that Gene was able to get a glimpse into my work world.”