MSU’s Summer Transportation Institute introduces students to new possibilities

June 12, 2015

“It made me want to go to college more than I already wanted to and it also inspired me to try harder in school to actually make it through the engineering program. This program is a great program and should be continued! If I could redo the program I definitely would! Thank you for a great opportunity!!”

This sentiment is among the array of positive feedback Montana State University has received from high school students who participated in its Summer Transportation Institute program, which will welcome another group to the Bozeman campus June 14-26.

The university established its STI program in 2005 with a grant from the Federal Highway Administration. The FHWA launched the national initiative through its Office of Civil Rights to help increase diversity within the profession and boost awareness of transportation careers among underrepresented middle and high school students.

Susan Gallagher, education program coordinator for MSU’s Western Transportation Institute, says the university typically hosts 15-20 students each summer. The innovative program helps students gain skills in applied science and math, work together with their peers on design teams, take part in field trips and hands-on activities, and meet university and professional staff in the transportation field. KAI’s Robyn Austin and Scott Beaird, PE, PTOE, are among the professionals who will lead sessions this summer.

“We’re so excited to have KAI as a partner,” Susan says. “The more we can get industry involved, the more realistic it is for the students. A lot of the information is more on the academic level, so it’s really nice to have the practitioners come and talk about what they do.”

During the STI’s hands-on lab about transportation infrastructure, students design, build and test road construction materials including asphalt, concrete and soils. The safety lab puts their driving skills to the test in the university’s simulator. Field trips to unique Montana destinations enhance students’ understanding of air, water and land transportation. Students also learn how ecologists work with highway engineers to reduce road kill and other negative environmental impacts of roads.

STI participants learn to work in teams on a number of competitive and non-competitive group projects, including balsa wood bridges, gliders, small electric cars with gears, and crash attenuators.

Through STI’s Enhancement Program, students learn essential college preparatory information about degrees and coursework, applying for colleges, obtaining financial aid, and choosing a major. They take a "strong interest survey" to help them better understand their work environment preferences. Students learn tips from MSU’s Career Services experts about researching careers and salaries, finding job opportunities, and building a successful resume. They also get a feel for college life by living on campus during the two-week program.
“The STI is a residential program because we’re in a pretty rural area, so they live in the dorms, eat in the cafeteria and walk around the campus,” Susan says. “It’s a great way for them to experience college life if they are thinking about going to college but aren’t sure.”

During the evenings and weekends, students participate in a sports and recreation program, visit local museums and other attractions, and take part in outdoor activities such as camping, hiking and river rafting. The program is free for all students selected to participate, with the FHWA grant covering food, housing and program expenses.
“[STI] showed me the options; boosted what girls could do; showed me I could do it,” one STI alum says about the program.

“It was a very fun camp and showed me a broad spectrum of engineering. I really enjoyed myself. Gave me a brief insight to what college dorm life is like so now I know what to expect when going to college,” another STI alum notes.

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