In its second year, the experiential summer program is part of a project to build an academic pathway for Logistics Engineering Technicians funded by a National Science Foundation grant under the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. The project addresses skills and knowledge gaps found in emerging occupations in the logistics field where automation and sophisticated computerized systems are becoming more prevalent.
Technologies around transportation are evolving rapidly. Staying current is difficult enough for professionals in the field, let alone for young people or the educators who prepare them for post secondary education and to choose their career path. Through a unique project, a suite of lesson plans teaching concepts from intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and connected vehicle technologies has been developed for middle school and high school students. The plans connect educators with the latest technologies and expose students to a modern vision of careers in the transportation industry.
“What kids see in terms of highway workers is a bunch of guys with trucks and shovels. But, we’re doing coding and robotics and communications. There’s a difference between the current perception and the vision of what’s going to come in the future as things are automated and as technology improves, and as the ways that transportation systems are developed, designed or maintained change,” said Richard Claus, Chief Executive Officer of NanoSonic, a company specializing in advanced materials and devices headquartered in Pembroke, Virginia.
NanoSonic is one of very few high-tech companies in a very rural area. Located near a local middle school, the people of NanoSonic were routinely asked to visit science, math or chemistry classes. Four years ago, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) sponsored a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to develop lesson plans around intelligent transportation systems and connected vehicle technologies. The company’s leadership saw this as an opportunity to get more formally engaged with the education system.
They were awarded the contract and began collaborating with engineers from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s ITS Joint Program Office’s Professional Capacity Building (ITS PCB) Program and Leidos and with educators from local schools. Since the initial project, the company was also awarded another contract for a second phase lasting two years, which is coming to a close, now.
“The contract required us to develop twenty lesson plans. We’re up to about sixty-five, now,” said Claus.
From the initial set of lesson plans, the ideas have continued to evolve and grow. One of the plans most recently developed has students utilize e-textile fabrics with embedded sensors and actuators. In this exercise, students develop clothing that will keep highway maintenance workers safe by sensing when traffic is too close. In addition to getting the students to think about how close a vehicle can be to a person without putting them in danger, the activity provides experience assembling electronics, learning about how the sensors work, and programming the devices.
Lesson plans were field tested through a STEM afterschool program serving middle school and high school students. Now in its third year, the program has reached many students, some of whom have returned year after year.
“One of our best success stories comes from one of the students who was with us for a couple of years, graduated from high school, and then, between graduating and going to college in the fall, worked for the Virginia Department of Transportation as a transportation engineer,” said Claus. The graduate returned recently and talked to the kids in the afterschool program about his experiences. “After he talked, enthusiasm among the students went up by a factor of ten. It just has more impact for a student to tell other students, than for an adult to tell them.”
Transportation is a good field for engaging with students of this age group, according to Christina Martin, who serves as the Giles County STEM Education Program Coordinator. “Students are excited about driving; it’s something they can see themselves doing in a few years. It’s fun for them to think about how vehicles are going to change. They see some of the connected applications that already exist on vehicles and they can start to imagine what that progression is going to look like in several years,” she said.
It was through their interactions with local teachers that the NanoSonic engineers learned that most of the classrooms in the area did not have access to the Internet. “That floored us because we’re engineers and nerds,” said Claus. NanoSonic purchased inexpensive routers and installed them in the science classrooms in all the county schools they worked with. Today, perhaps in part because of this effort, all of the county schools now have wireless Internet throughout. “We think that’s a nice benefit. Certainly, that wasn’t FHWA’s objective, but as a side benefit, we think we’ve been able to move the county ahead a step or two.”
The company has also helped create a regional science fair, launched a Transportation Engineering Summer Camp, and initiated a summer work program for high schoolers.
“We think it’s our civic responsibility to be part of the community,” said Claus. However, he does point out that the company has had one direct benefit from the work they have done with the schools. Through a summer work program for high school students, NanoSonic has hired one person as a full-time, permanent employee.
Employees with specific skills and a technical education are in demand in the transportation industry and this need is growing. Unfortunately, too few young people are being ushered toward transportation careers. Over the past decade, the nation’s K-12 educational systems have worked hard to deliver students to four-year degree programs at universities. This focus has greatly reduced the number of shop and hands-on technical classes, resulting in dwindling opportunities to expose students to the sorts of careers that drive the transportation industry today.
The Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence is determined to reverse this trend by providing young people with in-person, hands-on experiences, while demonstrating the value to parents, school administrators, industry representatives, and others. They are doing this with a new mobile outreach unit, a trailer decked out with stations for each transportation mode that is pulled by a truck. The trailer is outfitted with several pieces of equipment, creating hands-on stations where students, counselors, teachers, peers, and parents can participate in real activities that occur in transportation careers. These activities showcase the technology in the industry and help students develop passion for transportation careers.
“It’s one thing to put out a webinar, put out a newsletter, or tell someone about these careers,” said Chris Hadfield, Director of the Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence. But, he pointed out, it’s completely different when students and their parents visit the trailer and have that hands-on experience.
The mobile unit was used for the first time in early May at an event where high school students were competing to build fuel efficient miniature cars with lawn mower engines. The event hosted about 700 attendees and approximately 200-300 people walked through the trailer.
Inside, the center has designed an experience that promotes engagement with not just the students. School decision makers and parents, which the center refers to as influencers, are also targeted by the trailer.
“You have to have something to draw them in, the big trailer does that. Then you have to have industry partnerships,” said Hadfield. The goal is to have industry representatives from each transportation sector accompany the trailer at events. These industry volunteers work alongside center staff to greet people and talk about transportation jobs.
“We know that when we put an industry person in front of a school superintendent while they’re seeing students get engaged with the experience, that’s when we start to have real conversations about bringing their tech programs back, bringing their transportation programs back, maybe doing some cool internship or apprenticeship with us,” said Hadfield.
Involving industry representatives in outreach activities also serves to bring the transportation sectors together.
“Our idea is to have somebody from the trucking industry sitting side by side, two feet away from, somebody from the aviation sector and they’re side by side with somebody from the railroad and so on and so forth. We have these people mingling and they hadn’t realized before that they have something in common and now they realize that they do. And, common denominators mean that you should be collaborating and working together. There’s a lot more power in working together than alone in silos,” sad Hadfield.
Moving forward, the trailer will be made available to each of the center’s 26 partner post-secondary schools across the state. To utilize the trailer, the schools’ responsibilities include coordinating industry representatives to accompany the trailer, getting the high schools in their region on board, and arranging either a career fair on their own campus or to bring the trailer to a high school. The trailer is made available to center partners at no cost except to return the truck with a full tank of gas.
Brand new, the trailer is already booked for over 36 events over the course of the year. The success of the project so far is attributed to the collaboration of the schools, employers, and the center. Having representatives from the industry is really important toward the outreach goals of the center.
“If a post-secondary educator tells a secondary educator or a student about these careers, that’s nice and it works fine. But, when an industry person tells you, ‘By the way I’m hiring and right now I have people who work for me and this is what I pay them and this is what they do,’ the message has much more weight for a student, a parent or for a school superintendent,” said Hadfield.
About the Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence
The Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence is an innovative collaboration between Minnesota state colleges and universities and industry partners dedicated to educating and training workers for high-demand careers in the transportation industry.
The center was started in January of 2013 in response feedback from industry “listening sessions” held in 2012. Through the development of partnerships, the center supports workforce alignment in order to meet the current and future needs of the state’s transportation industry, not only in terms of the number of graduates but also in terms of the location of programs and the rate of degree attainment. The center coordinates the alignment of skills and knowledge needed by employers with what is taught in instructional programs while providing outreach to improve student awareness of employment markets.
The Midwest Transportation Workforce Center (MTWC) recently launched its new, searchable database of transportation workforce resources. With over 1300 entries, the search feature is accessed by clicking on “Clearinghouse” in the top menu of the MTWC website. Here, you will find listings of a variety of resources including pre-apprenticeship programs, internships, educational opportunities, professional development opportunities, scholarships, summer programs, and workforce development initiatives across the nine-state MTWC region, and beyond.
While the website, with its varied content devoted to growing the transportation pipeline, is a first stop for people seeking transportation workforce information, the indexing of resources in this new database will help users find what they are looking for more readily.
The Clearinghouse is a resource for educators looking for transportation curricula or programs, industry or workforce professionals looking for successful practices, or parents who are looking for summer programs for their budding transportation professional. So, if you are looking for Supply Chain programs in the region, or K-12 programs that target girls, we can help.
“Our vision for a Clearinghouse is that it will help us capture and define the collective work we are doing in this region. These transportation resources span the continuum from K-12 career awareness through professional development across all transportation occupations. With this database, we can determine where the gaps are and where we need to improve career pathways. As our communities prepare for the future of the transportation workforce, this kind of information will form a fundamental baseline for these planning discussions. We will be ready,” said Maria Hart, MTWC Program Manager.
The MTWC website is a one-stop for all things related to the transportation talent pipeline in the Midwest. With MTWC, you can connect with your peers, share best practices, read about others’ successes, and help define and develop the Midwest strategy for transportation talent development.
Please click here to explore the most comprehensive compilation of the region’s transportation workforce development initiatives, programs, and resources.
Make Sure Your Resources Are Listed
The MTWC Clearinghouse is always growing and improving. This launch is only the beginning. Help us build this network. To get your resource listed, please complete the MTWC Clearinghouse submission form. Or, send information along with a website link by email to Maria Hart at email@example.com.
Going into its third year, the Conexus Intern Program has grown from 30 companies employing 84 students in 2015 to more than 80 companies and more than 260 students expected in the summer of 2017. Conexus Indiana is a non-profit consortium of the state’s advanced manufacturers and logistics (AML) industries.
While many of the parents who sent their high schoolers to Saint Louis University’s Summer Transportation Institute in July may like to see the camp extended to two weeks, this program will continue to provide a one-week experience, packed with daily hands-on activities, to two different groups of students again in 2017.
“We would love to offer the camp as two-week sessions, but, with our current resources, these two, one-week sessions are the only way to serve the maximum number of students,” said camp director, Jalil Kianfar, PhD, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering at Parks College of Engineering, Aviation, and Technology. Having successfully completed the second year of this program at SLU, Kianfar looks forward to building on the tradition again next year by leveraging what makes the program strong. Read more
Since it was launched, Transportation Today WI has transformed career and technical education (CTE) programs across Wisconsin into desired destinations, not just a place where some students end up, according to publisher, Renée Feight. This change is, in part, because the newspaper written for students brings awareness of great career prospects in transportation to the classroom. Feight and Larry Werner, publishers of the Transportation Today WI newspaper are excited about all things transportation. The publication was added as a special publication of its parent publication, Teaching Today WI, in 2010. Read more
The Transportation Careers Curriculum Project provides educators with a series of curriculum units that cover Transportation, Distribution and Logistics (TDL) topics.
The goal of the project is to develop a pipeline of talented students who are interested in careers in the transportation field, and the content provided on the site helps prepare teachers to join this effort. Lessons developed deal with a variety of transportation-related subjects, including the planning, management and movement of people, materials, and goods by a variety of means as well as transportation infrastructure planning and management, logistics services, mobile equipment and facility management. Read more
APTA has released the National Transit Curriculum, which was developed as a semester-long course by an advisory committee comprised of representatives from public transit agencies, private sector firms, educators and trade associations to increase understanding and awareness of the industry. Individual lessons can be adapted for students of all ages, from K-12 to graduate-level courses, or for use in industry presentations.
For more information, read the article in Passenger Transport.
The web-based Garrett A. Morgan Technology and Transportation Education Program Clearinghouse provides a consolidated hub of resources, including instructional materials and classroom lesson plans, designed to support, enhance, and promote K-12 STEM and transportation education and outreach nationwide. A one-stop shop for educators, students, parents, and transportation professionals, the clearinghouse is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and spearheaded by Tennessee’s Knox County Schools and the University of Tennessee Center for Transportation Research.
The clearinghouse features a wide variety of transportation-themed STEM instructional materials and other resources that are available for download, in most cases, free of charge. The materials were hand-picked and/or created by STEM experts and K-12 educators nationwide.
Registration is Now Open!
Regionals Begin in January.
Future City starts with a question—how can we make the world a better place? To answer it, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students imagine, research, design, and build cities of the future that showcase their solution to a citywide sustainability issue. Past topics include stormwater management, urban agriculture, public spaces, and green energy. The 2017-2018 theme is The Age-Friendly City. Teams will identify an age-related challenge that exists in today’s urban environments and engineer two innovative solutions that allow their future city’s senior citizens to be as active and independent as they want to be.
Participants complete five deliverables: a virtual city design (using SimCity); a 1,500-word city essay; a scale model; a project plan, and a presentation to judges at Regional Competitions in January. Regional winners represent their region at the Finals in Washington, DC in February. After completing Future City, student participants are not only prepared to be citizens of today’s complex and technical world, but also poised to become the drivers of tomorrow.
FutureQuest 2017 will provide approximately 5,300 middle school students with an opportunity to relate their current interests to future education and career opportunities found within 16 career clusters. Students who attend this event will be better prepared to choose high school classes that relate to their interests and strengths.