Born in Puerto Rico and raised by the world, Ines Aviles-Spadoni has a warmth about her that you feel in every interaction she has with students, faculty, and staff. So naturally does she go about aiding the institute that you wouldn’t know that transportation wasn’t in her background except for the diplomas on the wall of her office.
“I have a different pathway than most people who end up in transportation because I am not an engineer. I’m an animal scientist,” she explained.
Aviles-Spadoni’s father joined the United States Military as a physician straight out of medical school during the Vietnam War. Even after the call to battle ended, he made a career out of it that led to the family traveling to places such as Panama, the Philippines, Turkey, and Spain. Eventually, he retired and they moved back to Puerto Rico just when she was graduating High School at Incirlik AFB, Turkey.
“It was the first time I lived there as an adult…it was a culture shock,” she said.
Her fierce love of animals led her to being interested in pursuing the field of veterinarian medicine and so she majored in biomedical sciences at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico. After graduating in 1995, she moved to the United States and pursued a master’s degree in animal sciences at Michigan State University. Veterinary school did not pan out in her plans for the future, but the University of Florida did.
By 1999, with a diploma in hand, she had decided to go in a different direction: education. The same year, she accepted a brand new position at the University of Florida’s Department of Animal Sciences as a and Academic Support Service Administrator for the graduate program.
“In a new position you really get to make it your own,” she said. And she was rewarded for her efforts in 2004, when she won a Superior Accomplishment Award at UF, a program that recognizes staff members who contribute outstanding and meritorious service, efficiency and/or economy, or to the quality of life provided to students and employees.
But in 2004, she left that position to assist the University with the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee’s (IACUC) with compliance for research. Despite having been handpicked due to her background, she was drawn immediately back towards education. Another new position in Academic Support Services opened up – this time in UF’s fledgling Nuclear Sciences Department, and she took it.
In 2007, she was approached by another College of Engineering staff member about interest in yet another new position. Civil Engineering had just won their first ever U.S. Department of Transposition (USDOT) University Transportation Center (UTC) – The Center for Multimodal Solutions for Congestion Mitigation (CMS) and they were in need of a Research Coordinator. When she expressed interest, she was soon contacted by the PI, Dr. Lily Elefteriadou. And the rest, well, was history.
In 2012, UFTI was granted yet another USDOT grant but this time for a regional (Southeastern) consortium (Southeastern Transportation Research, Innovation, Development and Education Center) with members from seven other universities: Auburn University, Florida International University, Georgia tech, Mississippi State University, North Carolina State University, University of Alabama at Birmingham and North Carolina State University.
As for the CUTC Administrative Leadership Award, Aviles-Spadoni said she had not expected it at all. Dr. Elefteriadou had nominated her, which was an honor in itself. “Dr. Elefteriadou has made me a more confident person,” she said. “I look up to her as my mentor.”
The CUTC Awards Banquet was the perfect storm – in a good sense. With the long-term transportation bill finally passed, that evening was the icing on the cake. USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx was the event’s keynote speaker and Norman Mineta (former U.S. Secretary of Transportation) received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
“It was so nice to be recognized with Norman Mineta and having Secretary Foxx as our speaker. It’s a moment I’ll never forget,” she said.
The long-term transportation bill is known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act that passed in December 2015. It is the longest surface transportation bill signed into law in 10 years.