Mary Stearns received a Ph.D. from Boston University (BU) in urban sociology with a dissertation addressing the effects of land taking for roads on the residents. She holds a Master’s degree in sociology from BU and a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and education from Newton College of the Sacred Heart (Boston College). Prior to joining the U.S. Department of Transportation's John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center) in 1973, she conducted field research for the BU School of Medicine, set up and ran the Urban Studies program at Newton College and taught in the sociology departments of BU, Newton College and Cardinal Cushing College. She left the Volpe Center in 2016 and now holds an elected position in her community in addition to lecturing at Tufts.
U.S. Department of Transportation's John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center)
Mary Stearns has been responsible for a multi-modal human factors portfolio requiring broad and deep understanding of human factors issues across transportation modes. She used her expertise to investigate technology acceptance and human behavior under normal, abnormal, and emergency conditions in many transportation modes. Her expertise extends beyond the strictly technical, encompassing the relationships between transportation and the broader issues of society. Some of her activities include leading a government-industry program to develop the first generation of driver assist features, understanding and measuring user acceptance, documenting the acceptance of new technology in front line operations, developing PC-based tools to assess human factors considerations for field equipment and developing tools to record operator actions. She has developed numerous data collection and analyses strategies. As the founding Executive Agent for the DOT's Human Factors Coordinating Committee (HFCC) she developed a broad understanding of the human factors issues affecting transportation. When she joined the Volpe Center she was one of very few women on the technical staff and she set up and led a task force to examine women’s career opportunities, subsequently mentoring staff through the years. She has been a Principal Technical Advisor, Division Chief, Program Manager and analyst.