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.

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.

Do You Know a Good Candidate for the Public Lands Transportation Fellows Program?

ogo: Transportation icons including, shuttle bus, hiker, cyclist, tour boat and car. Text: Public Lands Transportation Fellows Program

The application process for the 2020 Public Lands Transportation Fellows (PLTF) Class is now open!! The PLTF program provides fellowships to recent graduates (sometimes current graduate students) in a transportation-related engineering, planning, or resource management program. They receive a unique opportunity for learning, career development, and public service within a federal land unit or agency headquarters.  This year, the program is seeking applications for five positions: one at the Southeast National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Louisiana, one at the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Complex in Massachusetts, and three within the National Park Service.  Learn more at the PLTF Application webpage, then help us get the word out!

CHSC Grad Student Competes in Finals of Thesis Competition

Jubaer Ahmed making research presentation with large presentation slide projected behind him in 2020Congratulations to Jubaer Ahmed, who was one of seven finalists in the “Three Minute Thesis” Competition hosted by the Montana State University College of Engineering. On February 27, he presented “How Does Emotional Intelligence Predict Driving Behavior?” before a full house of faculty, students, and community members in the COE Inspiration Hall.  The topic builds on his research for his Ph.D. and for the Center for Health and Safety Culture, where he works in collaboration with his advisor (and CHSC Director) Nic Ward.

Three Minute Thesis is a research communication competition developed by the University of Queensland in Australia. It encourages graduate students to develop their presentation skills and learn how to explain complex concepts to general audiences. Competitors must give an engaging summary of their research in only 180 seconds, using only one slide.

WRTWC Releases “Playbook” for Launching University-Public Agency Partnerships

Cover image of University Partnership Playbook with 5 photos of rural settings and transportation professionalsThe West Region Transportation Workforce Center has released the University Partnership Playbook, a step-by-step guide for creating multi-project collaborations between public agencies and universities.  The collaborations offer students hands-on transportation project experience within their university courses and provide agencies with added expertise and capacity for community-based projects.

The Playbook uses the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities (EPIC) Model, a framework for making university resources (faculty, students, laboratories, specialized and multidisciplinary expertise, etc.) available to public entities to help solve their priority challenges.  At the same time, it promotes professional development and career awareness opportunities for university students.

Designed for public agencies and other potential partners who are interested in starting or expanding a partnership with a university, the playbook includes:

  • Tried and true implementation steps for organizing a successful university partnership
  • Common challenges and fixes
  • Adaptations to the model
  • Success stories from different locations around the country, which highlight potential outcomes and benefits

The University Partnership Playbook is available to read or download on the WRTWC Resources webpage.

MSU Undergrads Assisting with Safety Center Research

Portrait of student Andy Merkel in 2020Welcome to Andy Merkel and Maddy Pernat, who are new undergraduate research assistants at WTI.  By supporting projects conducted by the National Center for Rural Road Safety, they will have the opportunity to develop not only new research skills, but other valuable professional development skills related to communications and outreach.  For example, Andy is helping with  social media planning, developing marketing materials for Rural Road Safety Awareness Week, and contributing to training modules for the Road Safety Champion Program, a new safety training program for public health, law enforcement, and transportation practitioners.  Maddy is helping with summaries of TRB workshops, providing support to the Fellows program, and will soon begin background research for the new project with the Montana Department of Transportation to stream traffic safety videos at motor vehicle licensing and registration offices.

Andy is originally from Hamilton, Montana, and is now a junior at Montana State University pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis in transportation. When he isn’t working, he enjoys mountain biking, mentoring youth, kayaking, aerial photography, Montana State Chorale, and volunteering at his church.

Outdoor portrait of student Maddy Pernat with winter landscape 2020Maddy grew up outside of Minneapolis, Minneapolis, but chose Montana State University to pursue her education, in part to be closer to the mountains. She is a third-year Civil Engineering student with an emphasis on transportation engineering. Outside of school, Maddy can be found racing her mountain bike, backpacking, rock climbing, playing her guitar, or learning how to play her banjo.

Transportation Fellows Benefit from Networking and Learning Opportunities at TRB Forums

Transportation Fellows Vince Ziols, Naomi Fireman, and Nathan Begay in field with mountain view near Kalispell, Montana.Recently, WTI co-hosted the Transportation Research Board (TRB) International Conference on Low Volume Roads, held in Kalispell, Montana earlier this fall.  Attendees who stayed a few extra days could opt to take part in another Transportation Research Board (TRB) event – the mid-year meeting of the TRB Committee on Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands (ADA40), which has synergistic interests in topics related to providing access and safe travel in rural, remote, or unique locations.

Happy scheduling coincidence?  On the contrary, the two planning committees coordinated the dates of their forums to encourage attendance and allow participants to add value to their trips.  After learning about state-of-the practice management tools for low volume roads at the international conference, members of the National Parks committee held their own business meeting where they addressed emerging issues, such as the impacts and implications of visitors using E-bikes on public lands. Attendees also visited Glacier National Park where they learned about the management challenges of increasing visitation from Park Superintendent Jeff Mow and about transportation impacts on wildlife from Senior Wildlife Biologist John Waller.

The Public Lands Transportation Fellows attended both events and maximized the professional development opportunities.  Current fellows Vince Ziols, Naomi Fireman, and Nathan Begay are each assigned to a federal land unit where they work for one to two years on special transportation projects.  The TRB forums allow them to expand their knowledge on other emerging transportation issues.  Moreover, the Fellows had opportunities (not often available to young professionals) to collaborate and network with national transportation experts and leaders.

“At the Low Volume Roads conference, we were exposed to a productive mix of on-the-ground research and innovative thinking,” recalled the Fellows. “We met all sorts of people working on everything from safety signage to turning rail cars into pedestrian bridges to researching how autonomous vehicles could be used on public lands. We were inspired by everyone’s passion and dedication to public service. At the different field trips and events, we played ‘networking bingo’ and were able to converse with transportation professionals in a variety of fields.”

In addition, the discussion about E-bikes at the ADA 40 Committee meeting led to the development of a lectern session on this topic for the TRB Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. in January 2020. Fellow Naomi Firemen is conducting research on this issue at the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex. She was added to the January agenda and will have the chance to make a presentation to a national audience.  All three Fellows will also be showcasing posters about their research at the TRB Annual Meeting, which they are looking forward to: “We are excited for this year’s TRB conference to reconnect with the ADA40 committee, expand our networks, and learn about even more current and innovative transportation research topics.”

Meet the Fellows!

Portrait of Transportation Fellow Nathan Begay on outdoor balcony overlooking parklandsThe newest Fellow participating in the Public Lands Transportation Fellows program is Nathan Begay, who started working at the Valle de Oro Urban Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque, New Mexico in September.  Nathan graduated from the University of New Mexico with a Masters in Community and Regional Planning with an emphasis in Physical Planning and Design. Much of Nathan’s emphasis of study had been on placemaking, sustainable design, and community engagement. In addition to graduate school, much of his work experience has been dedicated to working on public lands, including work with the National Park Service at Canyon de Chelly National Monument and Salinas National Monument and working on trail crews with the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in parts of northern Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

At the Valle de Oro Refuge, Nathan is excited to work within the complex and rich culture of the South Valley. In addition to working within this unique cultural landscape, he is looking forward to giving back to the neighborhoods surrounding Valle de Oro. Nathan is promoting greater connection within the refuge through better trail and public transportation connectivity, creating beneficial relationships with the surrounding community, and finding innovative ways to foster multi-modal transportation in the South Valley. Nathan is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. He is a member of the Towering House Clan (Kinyaa’áanii), born for the Red Running into Water Clan (Táchii’nii) from Iyanbito, New Mexico.

Contact Information: nathan.begay@montana.edu

MSU News Highlights Fish Passage Research on Yellowstone River

Haley Tupen and Katey Plymesser with monitoring equipment next to Yellowstone River
Haley Tupen talks with assistant professor of civil engineering Katey Plymesser, right. MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

Graduate students at Montana State University had a great opportunity to participate in aquatics field research this summer, which was captured in feature article by the Montana State University (MSU) News Service.  “MSU engineers, ecologists seek to improve fish passage on Yellowstone River” profiles grad students Haley Tupin and Ian Anderson, who gathered data at the Huntley Irrigation project on the Yellowstone River.  The article includes numerous photos of the pair at work on the river and with the fish they studied.

The research project, conducted for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, is investigating the effectiveness of a fish bypass channel that was constructed for the Huntley Irrigation Project.  The data collected this summer will help determine if fish are using the bypass to navigate around the dam.  WTI Research Scientist Matt Blank is a co-PI on the research project and serves on Haley Tupin’s graduate committee.

USFWS Sponsors New Phase of Fish Passage Research

WTI, the MSU College of Engineering, and the Bozeman Fish Technology Center (BFTC) will continue their partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study fish passage and the barriers that limit fish movements.  Under a 5-year cooperative agreement, USFWS will sponsor a new phase of fish passage research projects, using the open channel flumes and swim chambers at BFTC as well as the hydraulics lab and computational/modeling facilities at MSU’s Department of Civil Engineering.  The purpose of the research program is to characterize fish swimming performance and behavior, to enhance the design and operation of fish passages, and to develop new methods that improve landscape connectivity for fish and other aquatic organisms.  The program also offers many hands-on research opportunities – in both labs and field sites – for undergraduate and graduate students.  Read more about this partnership program on the Fish Passage and Ecohydraulics Research Group webpage.

Ongoing information about this project will be posted to the Fish Passage Research (phase 2) project page.