Rob Ament Retires After 18 Years with WTI

Head shot of Rob AmentWe are both sad and honored to announce that Rob Ament has retired after 18 years with WTI. Rob is one of the early pioneers of our Road Ecology program and, as Program Manager, has grown it into the world-renowned focus area it is today. Having spent his childhood exploring the Mississippi River, Rob developed his love of ecology early. He devoted his early career to remote and wild places in the western U.S. – working for the Forest Service in Alaska, which he describes as “stinky thick with grown bears,” and as a Wilderness Ranger in the greater Yellowstone.

In the off season, Rob wintered in Bozeman, where he took graduate courses at Montana State University. He officially started a master’s in plant ecology, along with a new job in conservation, in 1993, investigating which plants communities reestablished after wildfires. The Yellowstone fires of 1988 were the perfect study subject, and park managers were relieved to learn that native plants, not invasive weeds, were returning to Yellowstone post fire. Rob’s work helped prove that fires are a natural part of the ecosystem – even early in his career, he was on the cutting edge.

Rob spent the next 12 years doing conservation work with American Wildlands, which he describes as “the first NGO to worry about corridors and connectivity.” It was during this period that he first collaborated with WTI, studying the impact of Interstate 90 on the animal corridor out of Yellowstone. That project led to the construction of animal underpasses at Bear Canyon, just east of Bozeman, Montana, and paved the way for Rob’s future position as WTI’s Road Ecology Program Manager.

In 2005, after six years as the Executive Director of American Wildlands, Rob decided to make a career move. He was offered jobs at WTI and the American Wildlife Society but was asked to start immediately. Abandoning his plans for a winter-long skiathon, Rob accepted both jobs – devoting half his time to conservation and half to research. He was determined to keep not just his love of research, but advocacy for implementation as well.

Rob became part of an iconic team when he joined the early founders of the WTI Road Ecology program Amanda Hardy, Tony Clevenger, and Marcel Huijser. “Bozeman was the center of the idea of road ecology,” remembers Rob, “Matt Blank started looking at aquatics, I started looking at roadsides. It was called Road Ecology within a couple of years.” Rob highlights a wide variety of projects on which he worked, from hill stabilization with waste wool blanketssequestering carbon in roadside soils, and building smartphone applications for wildlife-vehicle collision (WVC) data collection, to incorporating fiber reinforced polymers (FRP) into animal crossing structures, and managing roadside habitats for bees and butterflies. “I really had the most fascinating projects.”

“WTI was a great place for me,” says Rob. “If you were curious and could put together a research proposal, you could explore a multifaceted field.” WTI is also a collegial space. “There are no weird dynamics at WTI – people have loved my crazy ideas. I’ve always felt supported here.” He notes that’s true of his work with a plethora of MSU professors too. “I really am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.”

WTI’s focus on applied research has also suited Rob. The results of good research can be implemented right away, which he finds satisfying, and he’s proud of what he’s built at WTI. “The world is finally paying attention to road ecology, especially the wildlife component. It’s sexy.” He points out that as the last unfragmented landscapes start to see their first 4-lane superhighways, WTI publishes research on effective habitat connectivity solutions. “If you do the work, do it well. That’s what we’re all about.”

Rob will continue conservation work through the Center for Large Landscape Conservation (CLLC), where he has worked part-time since 2008, shaping policies that influence ecological connectivity and landscape integrity. Within days of retiring from WTI, Rob traveled to Thailand to investigate road network impacts on Asian elephants, a project sponsored by CLLC. A Borneo trip is also on the horizon. “It’s always some work and some play,” says Rob. “Looking at new highways and developing rainforests, but also seeing elephants and wild orangutans, eating good food, immersing in other cultures, and experiencing new ecologies.”

For play, he’s planned a 250-mile bike ride across Missouri with his siblings and is looking forward to an intensive Spanish immersion program.

At Rob’s retirement celebration last month, WTI Executive Director, Dr. Kelvin Wang, expressed deep gratitude to Rob for his phenomenal work and dedication. “Rob has worked hard to establish a robust Road Ecology program over the last decades that is recognized both in the U.S. and abroad,” said Dr. Wang. “His team will continue building on the relationships Rob developed and expanding on the program long term.”

David Kack Hands WTI Director Role to Kelvin Wang

Two men smile and shake hands.A word from our staff:

As Montana State University prepares for the start of the Fall semester, August is also bringing change to WTI as we welcome a new director. As many of you may know, David Kack and his family have started a new life chapter in Tennessee, and while David will continue remotely as WTI’s Program Manager for the Mobility & Public Transportation group and as the Director of the Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM), he is handing over the role of WTI Director here in Bozeman. David joined WTI as a researcher in 2002 and his many years of experience and institutional knowledge earned him the position of Director when long time WTI leader, Steve Albert, retired in 2019. David’s tenure was anything but business as usual. Within his first year he was immersed in emergency response management as the coronavirus shutdown began. During this time, David continued research and director responsibilities, but also sanitized our offices and common areas on a regular basis, motivated us through clever communications as we adjusted to working remotely, and welcomed us all back when the coast was clear – well, sort of clear. Most memorably, he managed and hosted the twice rescheduled (due to the pandemic) Council of University of Transportation Centers (CUTC) Summer Meeting in Big Sky during a new COVID surge in 2022 that coincided with an epic 100-year flood on the Yellowstone River, stranding Summer Meeting participants in airports and flooded areas. His signature calm, humor, and level headedness prevailed and executed a successful and very memorable Summer Meeting. While his accomplishments and contributions to WTI and the Gallatin Valley are too numerous to cover here, we extend huge thanks and appreciation to David for his dedication as Executive Director over the last four years.

David Kack is handing over the role of director as his family starts a new chapter out of state. He has led WTI since 2019 and has guided WTI through Covid-19, the transition to work-from-home, and bringing everyone safely back to the office. David will continue in his role as Program Manager for the Mobility & Public Transportation group, as well as the Director of the Small Urban, Rural and tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM). Thank you, David, for you dedication to WTI and leadership!

Dr. Kelvin Wang has been named the new WTI Director as of August 1st. Please join us in welcoming Director Wang to Bozeman and WTI. Find the MSU announcement here:

Below you will find a note from both of our directors:

The portrait of a smiling White man, with short hair and a goatee, wearing a suit and tie.
David Kack, WTI Director from 2019 to 2023

From David: On Merging and Passing

I’ve noticed that merging into traffic is often accompanied by a feeling of anxiety. We get up to speed at an interstate onramp or to pass a vehicle, especially a big truck, and feel the need to pay a bit more attention to what we are doing. This is how the month of August will feel for me, and for the next Director of WTI, Dr. Kelvin C.P. Wang, who officially began his new role August 1.

I merged my professional life with WTI back in 2001 when I started as a half-time employee. I was fortunate to work on many different projects with an array of co-workers. At the time, I was only the third non-engineer that was working at WTI. I quickly became a full-time employee, then became the Program Manager for our Mobility & Public Transportation research area, and then the Director of the Small Urban and Rural Livability Center (a Tier 1 UTC) under MAP-21. In 2019, I was named the Interim Director of WTI when our long-time director, Steve Albert, retired. The “Interim” tag was removed in 2020 and it has been an honor and privilege to lead an amazing group of people at WTI these past four years.

Now, however, I am passing on the title and responsibilities of Director to Kelvin, who is moving to Bozeman from Stillwater, Oklahoma and has decades of experience as university faculty and four years as a DOT engineer. I will continue my role at WTI as Program Manager for Mobility & Public Transportation, as well as fulfilling my role as Director of the Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM), our Tier 1 University Transportation Center (UTC) funded through the FAST Act.

Though the title on my business cards and emails is changing, my dedication to WTI and the transportation profession remains as strong as ever. Kelvin and I will pay a bit more attention during the month of August, as he merges his professional career with WTI, and I pass the Director role to him.

May all your personal and transportation-related mergers and passes go smoothly!

David Kack, Former Director

A portrait of a smiling Asian man, with short hair, wearing a suit and tie.
Dr. Kelvin C.P. Wang, WTI Director

From Kelvin:

I am honored and grateful to be the new director of WTI. Since mid-June, I’ve been familiarizing myself with the operations of WTI and its relationships with various entities at MSU and the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT). I would like to thank Mr. David Kack for his expertise and unreserved support during our transition in roles.

Based on what I’ve learned, I can say that the future of WTI is bright, and we have enormous opportunities to grow in the coming years. I will provide a more detailed plan in September outlining our potential expansion. Thank you all for your hard work in the last decades to make WTI a national and international leader in transportation research! Together we will open a new chapter at WTI, where we will continue to provide high-impact research solutions to the state, the nation, and our international partners. I am excited for what is to come.

Dr. Kelvin Wang, Director

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.

On to the Next Adventure…

Group photo of WTI staff and guests at Steve Albert retirement party in July 2019

Marking the end of era, WTI’s two most senior leaders retired this month.  We bid a fond farewell to our Executive Director Steve Albert and our Assistant Director for Administration and Finance, Jeralyn Brodowy.

On July 17, Montana State University College of Engineering Dean Brett Gunnink hosted a retirement reception for Steve Albert, which was well attended by WTI staff, past and present.  Special guests included retired MSU Civil Engineering professors Joe Armijo, a WTI founder, and Ralph Zimmer.   Former WTI staff who surprised Steve for the occasion included Kate (Heidkamp) Laughery, Eli Cuelho, and Carol Diffendaffer.

Joe Armijo speaks at Steve Albert retirement party in July 2019Steve retires after leading WTI for 23 years, transforming a tiny organization with only two staff people and two engineers into a large, nationally and internationally recognized transportation institute, with a multi-million dollar research portfolio.  He will always be highly regarded not only for his leadership at WTI, but also for his contributions to the fields of rural transportation and advanced transportation technologies.

Kate Laughery at Steve Albert retirement party 2019WTI gathered for Jeralyn’s retirement party on July 3, honoring her 20 years of service to our organization.  After starting as Business Manager in 1999, she quickly advanced to the  position of Assistant Director. She has not only been instrumental in the long-term growth of WTI, she has also served as a mentor to other research centers around the country through her leadership in the Council of University Transportation Centers.

Both Steve and Jeralyn will be greatly missed at WTI, but we wish them all the best as they embark on the next chapters of their lives!


WTI staff and guests at Jeralyn Brodowy retirement party in July 2019

WTI staff and guests at Steve Albert retirement party in July 2019