Engineering the future

STI pairs minds with opportunity

Student building a straw tower.

A camp participant builds a straw tower using only straws, paper tubes and tape.

Imagination. Every good idea begins with it. And inspiring young people to think about the future begins with sparking their imaginations.

The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) coordinates the Summer Transportation Institute (STI) program, which aims to keep those good ideas flowing for years to come. Thinking about the future—and, specifically, the infinite possibilities of a career as a transportation professional—is the main mission of STI.

“We try and make engineering the future interesting for our students,” explains Debbie Jasek, director of the STI program and TTI associate research specialist. “We educate them about the rewards of engineering, and while you can make a good living at it, there’s more to it than that. You can make a difference as well.”

More than 200 students, a record number, attended the 11th annual STI held in June. Schools that hosted program activities included Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas A&M University-Kingsville and The University of Texas at El Paso. Funded by the Federal Highway Administration and administered through the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas program is also conducted at Prairie View A&M University and Texas Southern University.

Students, ranging from sixth to 11th graders, take part in activities that focus on engineering or transportation. For example, after learning about buoyancy, students build canoes out of cardboard and packing tape. The canoe races are judged on which boat, with two students aboard, can travel the longest before sinking. The students also create their own cement and build bridges made of Popsicle sticks. Through activities like these, STI staff and counselors bring to life concepts that can seem stuffy and boring in math and science classes.

“STI is filled with success stories every year,” says Jasek. “And this year was no exception. We had a great group of young people who got a lot out of it.”

Part of the key to success involves carefully pairing enthusiastic, knowledgeable mentors with curious students. That energetic interaction has proven key to learning and often fires the imagination of students eager to set goals for their professional futures. Professionals take the students on field trips to see how traffic operations work, how laboratory research impacts their daily driving lives, and how various transportation modes work together to form a cohesive system. Through discussions with mentors, students learn firsthand about opportunities for careers in transportation. Often, students admit, transportation careers are more than they had ever imagined.

“Participants get hands-on experience at the institute that really shows them what it’s like to be an engineer,” explains Raghava Kommalapati, civil engineering professor and Prairie View STI’s director. “Our goal is to get them to think about the future of transportation and how they can make that dream a reality.”

A team at an STI camp held earlier this year in El Paso works to construct a package that prevents an egg from breaking when dropped.

Students paddling a canoe made out of cardboard

One of the activities at the STI involves construction of cardboard canoes to test buoyancy.

This Issue

Getting the Word Out: TTI’s Research Speaks Volumes

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Volume 44, Number 2
June 2008
Issue Overview

 

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For more information:

Debbie Jasek
(979) 845-5239
d-jasek@tamu.edu