Milestones in Service: Faculty and Staff Honored at Virtual Ceremony

On November 5, Montana State University hosted the 7th annual Milestones in Service celebration with a virtual awards ceremony to honor faculty and staff for their dedication and years of service to MSU. Awards are provided in 5-year increments based on cumulative years of service. This year’s ceremony recognized a number of faculty and staff who work closely with WTI or are part of our WTI “alumni” family.

Portrait of Ahmed Al-Kaisy

Dr. Ahmed Al-Kaisy received an award for 15 years of service as a Transportation Professor in the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering (NACOE).  Over that same 15-year period, Ahmed has also served as a WTI Researcher and Program Manager for Safety and Operations Research.

outdoor portrait of Kari Finley

Dr. Kari Finley was recognized for 5 years of service as a Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Health and Safety Culture.  She has led and collaborated on numerous projects related to traffic safety culture, substance misuse, and child development.

Two MSU employees who started their MSU careers at WTI were also honored. Jenni West, who managed the Transit in Parks Technical Assistance Center (TRIPTAC) for WTI for many years, received a 10-year award.  She now serves as the Associate Director of the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center (MMEC) in the MSU College of Engineering (NACOE).  Dr. Laura Stanley was also recognized with a 10-year service award. She formerly served as a WTI researcher in our human factors safety program and led many projects in the Driving Simulation Laboratory.  She now serves as an Associate Professor of Computer Science in the MSU Gianforte School of Computing.

Finally, we congratulate several long-time NACOE employees who have provided invaluable support to WTI.  Dr. Ernest Visser has served as the IT Manager for the NACOE Dean’s Office for 20 years, and during that time he helped create, maintain, and troubleshoot many of WTI’s key IT systems.  Dr. Joel Cahoon, Civil Engineering (25 years), has been a frequent collaborator on fish passage and hydraulics projects. Kathy Osen, NACOE’s Director of Administration and Finance received her milestone award for an impressive 35 years of service to MSU. She has offered administrative guidance and assistance to WTI for many years. The Milestones in Service ceremony was hosted by Dr. Waded Cruzado, who received her own award for 10 years of service as the President of MSU. The recorded ceremony is available to view on the MSU website.

ARC Solutions Presents Former WTI Director with a Lifetime Road Ecology Leadership Award

Steve Albert receives lifetime achievement award at ARC event 2020
Steve Albert

On October 20, ARC Solutions presented former WTI Director Steve Albert with a Lifetime Road Ecology Leadership Award in recognition of his enduring legacy in making our nation’s roads safer for both people and wildlife.A not-for-profit network working to promote leading-edge solutions to improve human safety, wildlife mobility and landscape connectivity, ARC celebrated Steve’s leadership, his encouragement, and his creativity, first as a co-founder of the ARC International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition and then as an original member of the ARC Steering Committee. Executive Director Renee Callahan highlighted a variety of successes supported and inspired by Steve during his decade-plus tenure with ARC, including:

“Winning 4 Wildlife” – Aimed at introducing middle school students to the concepts of safe passage and the need for creative wildlife-friendly solutions to make our highways safer, this curriculum was co-developed by three Montana teachers as part of WTI’s Innovative Transportation Systems Research Engagement for Teachersprogram in 2018.

WVC Reduction and Habitat Connectivity Pooled Fund Study – ARC partnered with the State of Nevada to launch a pooled fund study on WVC Reduction and Habitat Connectivity. Study members, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Parks Canada, have since committed $1.275 million in research funds to identify cost-effective solutions to integrate highway safety and human mobility with wildlife conservation and habitat connectivity. WTI Road Ecologist Marcel Huijser is leading a team of researchers conducting the research task to identify and evaluate cost-effective strategies.

Fiber-Reinforced Polymer Crossing Structure – In one of the research projects under the Pooled Fund Study, WTI is teaming with ARC Solutions, Ryerson University and the California Department of Transportation to explore design-based opportunities to build North America’s first fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) wildlife crossing in Siskiyou County, CA. A highly-versatile materialthat is durable, modular, and virtually maintenance free, FRP is widely used in Europe for bike-ped infrastructure and promises to be a game-changer in the construction of the next-generation of wildlife infrastructure in the U.S.

Renee Calahan makes presentation at ARC event 2020
Renee Callahan, ARC Solutions Executive Director

During the ceremony, ARC presented Steve with a keepsake card and commemorative print by renowned wildlife photographer Joe Riis depicting mule deer crossing a roadway within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Family, friends, and colleagues joined in the festivities by sharing personal and professional tributes illustrating Steve’s exceptional leadership within the field of road ecology. ARC is fiscally sponsored by the Center for Large Landscape Conservation in Bozeman, MT. To learn more about ARC’s work, please visit arc-solutions.org. To learn more about WTI’s research in this area, visit the WTI Road Ecology webpage.

Distinctly Montana Explores the Future of Transportation with Ahmed Al-Kaisy

Portrait of Ahmed Al-Kaisy

In its Fall 2020 issue, Distinctly Montana continued its series of articles on “Montana in 30 Years.” To explore the topic of transportation, the magazine interviewed MSU Engineering Professor and WTI Safety and Operations Researcher Ahmed Al-Kaisy. Dr. Al-Kaisy discusses a wide range of transportation issues, ranging from current challenges such as highway funding and clean energy development, to the prospects for implementing emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles and even flying cars!  Read the full article on the magazine website.

Student News: Meet our summer intern

Portrait of Jonathan Fisher in outdoor setting

2020 will always be remembered as the year we all worked remotely – even our summer interns! WTI is pleased to welcome Jonathan Fisher, who is working from his home in Vermont.  While far from Montana, he is well situated to help Andrea Hamre with a Travel Behavior Analysis project, for which he is analyzing and modeling data from traveler surveys in Chittenden County, Vermont.

Jonathan is a recent graduate of Middlebury College, where he majored in Geography and minored in French.  With his skills in GIS and data analysis, combined with an interest in the environment, he sees the internship as an opportunity to learn more about transportation topics like mode choice, transportation behavior, and commuter benefits: “I have always loved working with numbers and I was eager to put my new statistical skillset to use on a professional research project.” Andrea added, “It’s been a true pleasure working with Jonathan this summer. We’ve worked through an ambitious research plan together, and I hope this introduction to transportation research with WTI supports his career development.”

A lifetime Vermont resident, Jonathan is considering a move to Boston in the near future to start his professional career.  When he’s not crunching numbers, learning how to write a journal article, or checking out the job market, he also manages to find time for running, basketball, baking and reading.

David Kack named WTI Director

Outdoor portrait of David Kack in 2020

Last week, Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering (NACOE) Dean, Brett Gunnink, named David Kack as Director of WTI.  David has served as Interim Director since last July, in addition to his duties as SURTCOM Director and Mobility Program Manager.  The College highlighted the appointment in an article on the NACOE homepage.

In more good news, NACOE also selected David for its 2020 Research Professional Employee Award for Excellence, in recognition of “extraordinary service during the most challenging of times.” Due to current event restrictions, the awards ceremony will be scheduled for a later day.

Congratulations, David, and thank you for all your hard work on behalf of WTI!

Catching Up with the Fellows

The placement year for the Class of 2019-2020 Public Land Transportation Fellows (PLTF) is drawing to a close.  Over the last three weeks, Naomi Fireman, Nate Begay, and Vince Ziols have been featured in “Takeover Tuesday” posts on LinkedIn, reflecting on their experiences working and learning in US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) wildlife refuges.

Naomi Fireman at Potomac River Wildlife Refuge 2020
Naomi Fireman

Naomi Fireman has been stationed at Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Northern Virginia, where she has assisted with a variety of projects to enhance transportation facilities within and between the individual refuges that make up the large complex. Highlights included re-designing a refuge entrance, planning and installing new bike racks, and applying for a federal grant to complete a trail project.  Naomi noted, “Especially nowadays we can see how important it is for people to connect to and get out into nature. I am proud to be helping improve my refuge’s accessibility and connectivity to the local area and beyond.”

Nate Begay outside with flag that reads Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge
Nate Begay

On the other side of the country, Nate Begay has been working with staff and partners at Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge (VdO) in Albuquerque, NM to improve transportation access, as well as expand educational programs.  Some of his favorite projects have included bringing a bike share station to the visitor center, helping staff design the refuge trail network, and designing an outdoor classroom for field trips. Nate appreciated the chance to collaborate with the many local stakeholders who support the Refuge: “Working with Valle de Oro has allowed me to not only give back to my community, but also follow my passion of working in public lands.”

Nature trail near shoreline in Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge
Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge

Vince Ziols has had the unique opportunity to spend nearly two years at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge (DRIWR) in Michigan. In his first year, he completed a number of transportation planning projects to facilitate access to the Refuge by residents of Detroit and other surrounding communities.  DRIWR then extended his fellowship for a second year, which has allowed him to put many of the projects into action, including extending a regional bus route to the Refuge Gateway and Visitor Center, helping a nonprofit organization secure a $1.9 million grant for trail development, and implementing a trail signage and safety plan. According to Vince, the fellowship has had several valuable benefits: “I have found another home here in Detroit and know that my experience as a PLTF has prepared me for the next step of my career.”

Vince conducted a wrap-up presentation webinar last week, which is available to view on the Fellows project page of the WTI website.  Naomi will present her wrap-up webinar on Wednesday, June 3, at 11 a.m. (EST), and Nate’s will be scheduled for later this summer. To read the Fellows’ entire “Takeover Tuesday” posts, visit the Federal-Public Lands Transportation Institute page on LinkedIn.  For more information on the Fellows program, go to the PLTF page on the WTI website.

Look What’s Popping Up in Bozeman

Seven staff members from WTI and City of Bozeman at traffic calming installation in Bozeman, Montana

On Saturday, May 2, WTI and the City of Bozeman teamed up to assemble pop-up calming installations in a West Bozeman neighborhood on Yellowstone Avenue.  Staff worked together to complete the project in one day, while practicing social distancing guidelines and wearing masks, of course. Team WTI included Danae Giannetti, Andrea Hamre, David Kack and Matt Madsen, while Team Bozeman included two WTI alumni — Dani Hess and Taylor Lonsdale.  Can you spot our staff and partners behind their socially responsible masks?

The installation in West Bozeman is the most recent project in an ongoing collaboration by the City of Bozeman and WTI to test temporary, low cost strategies in areas where neighbors have expressed concerns about speeding vehicles. Several projects in 2019 used street art as a traffic calming strategy.

And… speaking of WTI alumni Dani Hess, did you know that the City of Bozeman recently selected her to serve as its news Neighborhoods Program Coordinator?  Her appointment was highlighted in a local news story by KHQ Channel 6.  Congrats, Dani – WTI looks forward to more opportunities to work with you on local projects!

Why did the bear cross the road? Because he had it all to himself

rural two-lane road with no vehicles in mountainous region

Discover Magazine Interviews WTI Researcher about Wildlife Behavior during Pandemic

Humans are staying home more and traveling less during the current COVID-19 restrictions.  What does that mean for wildlife?  Discovery Magazine recently talked to WTI Research Scientist Tony Clevenger for an online article called “National Parks Are Empty During the Pandemic — and Wildlife Are Loving It,” about what happens when there are fewer vehicles, people, and noise on public lands. Tony discusses how large species, like bears, notice and take advantage of the empty travel corridors: “As you get people off trails and reduce the amount of human activity and movement in some of these rural-urban areas, wildlife really seem to key into that.” He also discusses how parks may have opportunities to enhance their habitat conservation efforts based on what they learn about wildlife during these unique conditions.

Big Turnout for Webinar on Traffic Safety Culture Messaging

On March 25, Center for Health and Safety Culture Director Nic Ward led a webinar for the National Center for Rural Road Safety on “Traffic Safety Culture Messaging.” More than 300 people attended the forum, which summarized different forms of traffic safety culture messages, discussed the importance of a positive message “frame,” and presented aspects of message design to overcome audience resistance.  The webinar is available for viewing on the Safety Center’s Archived Webinar webpage.

Road Ecologist Helps Launch Wednesday Webinars

Marcel Huijser

The Society for Ecological Restoration has started a “Wednesday Webinar” series to promote information sharing and professional development in response to conference cancellations.  One of the first invited speakers was WTI Research Scientist Marcel Huijser, who led a webinar on March 25 on “Open Access: Where Road Ecology and Ecological Restoration Converge.” The presentation focused on new approaches designed to shift from providing safe crossing opportunities for large mammals to restoring habitat connectivity for a wide range of species groups.  The webinar is available on the ECR Webinar webpage.

The following day, Marcel also presented via webinar at the University of Montana, which has transitioned its courses to online delivery.  He gave a remote lecture on road ecology to the students of WILD 370, Wildlife Biology, a course taught by Professor Mark Hebblewhite, who leads the UM Ungulate Ecology Lab.