Focus Area: Education
WTI Part of $2.25M Tribal Transport Effort
As part of a consortium that was recently awarded up to $2.25 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation, WTI will provide transportation outreach and technical assistance to tribes across the Upper Great Plains and Intermountain West through the Tribal Technical Assistance Program (TTAP). Led by the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University, the program will work with 29 tribes within the Bureau of Indian Affair’s Rocky Mountain and Great Plains Regions to build tribal capacity in program management, grow the tribal workforce, cultivate and coordinate partnerships, facilitate technology transfer and the implementation of innovations, and share results of similar initiatives across the country.
“WTI looks forward to sharing with tribes in our region, building their capacity to administer and manage their own transportation programs and systems,” said WTI Executive Director David Kack. “WTI has a long history of solving rural road challenges and collaborating with tribes, as well as partnering with the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute.”
Program funds will be shared through NDSU with MSU, South Dakota State University and the University of Wyoming, which all host and manage existing Federal Highway Administration-funded Local Technical Assistance Programs (LTAPs), that provide transportation outreach to local units of government. The collaborating universities have considerable experience with rural roads, rural road safety, and other transportation issues faced by tribes, Kack noted. The collective resources and outreach experience will be invaluable to the efforts of the Northern TTAP.
The Northern TTAP will also work closely with state departments of transportation in the region to tap expertise within those departments and to help them better integrate tribal transportation networks into their own statewide and regional networks.
To learn more about TTAP visit: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/clas/ttap/
WTI Employees Take the Lead in Transportation as TRB Chairs
This January, three WTI researchers will have the honor and responsibility of presiding over committees they chair at the 2023 Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting (January 8-12th) in Washington, D.C. TRB is one of seven programs housed in the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, and facilitates research, the exchange of ideas, and guidance on all modes of transportation. As Chairs, Natalie Villwock-Witte, Laura Fay, and Jamie Sullivan will lead the Standing Committee on Transportation Needs in National Parks and Public Lands, the Standing Committee on Low-Volume Roads, and the Rural Transportation Issues Coordinating Council, respectively. The 2023 TRB theme will be Rejuvenation Out of Disruption: Envisioning a Transportation System for a Dynamic Future.
Jamie Sullivan, P.E., a Senior Research Engineer at WTI, has extensive experience in applied rural safety and operations research for Departments of Transportation and public lands management agencies. Her work focuses on advanced transportation technologies, including Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) design, implementation, and evaluation. Jamie is currently the Director of the National Center for Rural Road Safety (Safety Center) and Manager of the Public Lands Transportation Fellows program. She has employed her leadership skills as Chair of the TRB Rural Transportation Issues Coordinating Council, A0040C, since its inception in April 2020. It is “the hub of rural transportation issues, conversation, and research in the transportation community,” said Jamie, “and its mission is to promote rural transportation research needs and opportunities across all modes and disciplines within the entire TRB committee structure.”
A0040C is one of four councils established to lead the TRB Technical Activities committees. “As a new council, I am excited for us to provide more support to committees and information on what we do and how we can work together,” noted Jamie, adding that the Council is currently organizing a group of rural-state representatives to help committees review and develop their rural research problem statements. A0040C will also host a session on the impacts of climate change on rural transportation at the upcoming Annual Meeting and publish a Rural Issue of TR News in Fall 2023.
Natalie Villwock-Witte, Ph.D., P.E., is an Assistant Research Professor/Research Engineer for WTI and has multi-disciplinary research experience. Her work has covered diverse topics from the development of transportation voucher programs to surveys of millennial’s transportation preferences. Natalie has also developed transportation safety solutions for the National Park Service and other federal agencies, which has prepared her to chair the Committee on Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands – AEP20. The Committee considers transportation of all forms on public lands, including national parks, federally managed lands such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holdings, and state parks.
Natalie has a decade of experience with the Committee on Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands, where she started as a Young Member in 2012 before transitioning to Member in 2016. She took over as Chair in April of 2020 and has accepted the role for another three years. Under Natalie’s leadership, AEP20 was recognized with a TRB Blue Ribbon Award: Moving Research Ideas into Transportation Practice for utilizing new funding and re-engaging state representatives through the NCHRP program.
Because public land stakeholders are so numerous and diverse, AEP20 has become a vital platform for ideas exchange and identification of research issues and directions between industry leaders in land management, tourism, university systems, consulting, and beyond. “I often find that listening to presentations provides me with a multitude of ideas for additional research avenues, some of which may tie into on-going research and some which may be entirely new,” noted Villwock-Witte, who expressed excitement for the new year. “The Committee recently completed a draft of our Triennial Strategic Plan, and we look forward to discussing its implementation. Our committee has also taken on the task of developing content for TR News and we’ve seen an incredible transition as our long-time members mentor and encourage participation by the next generation of transportation researchers.”
Laura Fay, M.S. is a WTI Research Scientist who specializes in the intersection of transportation and cold climates. With over a decade of research experience, her work has explored a range of topics, including deicer impacts on pavements and Road Weather Information System (RWIS) development, and guided the implementation of new and innovative winter maintenance practices. Laura serves as the Program Manager for WTI’s Cold Climate Operations and Systems research group and chairs the TRB Standing Committee on Low-Volume Roads – AKD30. The committee focuses on new technology and practices that best support low-volume road users and owners, such as construction, operation, and maintenance techniques and administration strategies.
“The TRB Annual Meeting is an opportunity to meet face to face with committee members, colleagues, and friends to learn from others and share ideas,” said Laura, who has a long history with the Low-Volume Roads Committee. She served as a member for three consecutive years and was awarded the TRB Blue Ribbon Award for Implementation for her work as a key organizer of the 2019 Low Volume Roads Conference in Kalispell, MT. Laura was appointed Chair in 2021 but, due to Covid-19, was unable to attend the meeting in person last year. “That would have been my first annual meeting as committee chair,” she noted. “I feel like I missed out on the experience so I’m excited to be there in person and see all the hard work of the committee in action. I expect a lot of activity and excitement after the disruption of the last couple of years!”
UTCs – TCUs Exchange Ideas at Albuquerque Summit
The Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM) hosted a University Transportation Center (UTC) -Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCU) Summit in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The October 21st event, sponsored by a CUTC New Initiatives grant, brought together representatives from UTCs and TCUs nationwide to discuss strategies for advancing partnerships that will help connect Native American students to transportation careers and higher education. Arlando Teller, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Tribal Affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation, opened with a welcome and overview of the UTC program as well as additional US DOT grant opportunities. Patrick Nemons, Director of the Office of Safety Programs with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, provided attendees with resources and strategies for obtaining federal grants, focusing on the important role minority-serving institutions play in advancing the nation’s transportation programs.
Representatives from UTCs provided attendees with an overview of their research themes and outreach and education efforts, highlighting any existing UTC-TCU partnerships. The majority of the Summit was spent on roundtable discussions with TCU attendees exploring themes related to research, training, and workforce development needs, linkages between two-year and four-year institutions, and education and outreach efforts to attract diverse students to transportation careers. The workshop wrapped up with a discussion on strategies and guiding principles for establishing mutually beneficial TCU/UTC partnerships.
WRTWC Releases “Playbook” for Launching University-Public Agency Partnerships
The 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
Welcome 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.
Maddy 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
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.”
WTI Researchers Contribute Chapter to Mobility Workforce Book
A newly published book on training the next generation of transportation workers at all levels includes a chapter written by two WTI staff members. Empowering the New Mobility Workforce: Educating, Training, and Inspiring Future Transportation Professionals identifies strategies that education, industry, and government leaders can use to facilitate learning and skill development related to emerging transportation technologies and challenges. Susan Gallagher, WTI’s Education Workforce Program Manager, and former WTI Director, Steve Albert wrote a chapter on “Cultivating a rural lens: successful approaches to developing regional transportation corridors through professional capacity building,” which focuses on the unique workforce challenges faced by transportation agencies at the rural and regional level and describes relevant examples of incorporating professional capacity building into transportation projects.
The book addresses one of the most critical issues in transportation – the growing workforce shortage. Transportation industries project a need to hire more than 4 million employees over the next decade. Empowering the New Mobility Workforce has been endorsed by national transportation leaders, including former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta. It is available on the Elsevier Publishing website or on Amazon.com.
Citation: Reeb, Tyler (Ed.). (2019). Empowering the New Mobility Workforce: Educating, Training, and Inspiring Future Transportation Professionals. Amsterdam: Elsevier Publishing.
New Transportation Fellow Arrives at National Wildlife Refuge
The Public Lands Transportation Fellows program has welcomed its first fellow for 2019-2020! In early July, Naomi Firemen arrived at the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex for training in her new position. The Complex encompasses three individual wildlife refuges in the Virginia/Washington D.C. area. Most of Naomi’s work will focus on improving transportation options at the Occoquan Bay NWR, a 600-acre refuge that is home to many migratory species and is currently expanding its facilities for visitors. She will also explore opportunities to enhance transportation between Occoquan Bay and the other two refuges within the complex.
The Public Lands Transportation Fellows (PLTF) program provides fellowships to outstanding masters and doctoral graduates in a transportation-related field. Fellows have the unique opportunity to work at a federal land unit to plan or implement a project addressing visitor transportation issues for approximately one year.
Photo Caption: (left to right) Carl Melberg, USFWS Region 5 transportation coordinator; Amanda Daisey, USFWS PRNWRC Project Leader; Nathan Beauchamp, USFWS Transportation Program Analyst; Naomi Fireman, PRNWRC PLTF; Jaime Sullivan, PLTF Manager; Laura Whorton, USFWS Branch Chief of Transportation and Data Management; and Phil Shapiro, STC.
STEM & Design Camp for Middle School Students: Coming to WTI in Summer 2019
WTI will host two five-day summer camps in 2019 that are free for area middle school students interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), as well as community design and planning.
Mobility Innovations, which will be held July 15-19 and July 22-26 on the Montana State University (MSU) campus, will integrate STEM topics and provide opportunities for participants to apply design thinking to mobility and transportation issues. Through a variety of activities, the camp will explore topics like community design, public health, sustainable construction materials, wildlife and habitat conservation, advanced technologies, and safety.
Students entering grades 6 through 9 in the fall are invited to attend. The camp will bring Montana teachers, MSU faculty and researchers, and industry guest speakers to campus to share a diverse mix of fun, exploratory, and hands-on activities with participating youth.
The camps are free to participants and will meet from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. daily. Space is limited, and applicants may register for only one of the two available weeks. For more information on the camp and to register, visit the Mobility Innovations registration page.