ITD hopes to expand participation in TRAC
More than 100 Columbia High School students in Nampa benefited from the expertise of six ITD engineers this winter during the introduction of the TRAC (Transportation and Civil Engineering) educational program.
Developed by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the program introduces high school and middle school students to the role engineers play in transportation. Ultimately, its intent is to attract more students to the engineering profession.
Six ITD engineers rotated into Columbia classrooms, integrating engineering principles into three disciplines, or PACS, as the program refers to the modules. Engineering-related curriculum was introduced into English, Engineering, Math, and American Government classes.
Greg Laragan, assistant chief engineer (operations), assisted Michelle George, a recruiter with ITD’s Human Resource Services, in implementing TRAC last fall. They hope to expand ITD’s participation when classes resume this year.
Laragan said he would like to at have at least a dozen engineers from the department assisting with delivery of the TRAC curricula. Doubling the number of participants would provide ITD engineers more flexibility.
“We hope to build on this formal experience to include an informal component – things that we weren’t able to do in the first year, such as visits to project locations and a tour of our materials lab,” Laragan says.
He also would like to develop a panel of engineers that can explain the interesting and challenging side of engineering.
“We helped the students understand the challenges transportation engineers have and to develop an appreciation for the relationship of land use and transportation planning,” Laragan said.
ITD employees interested in participating in the TRAC program when it resumes at Columbia this fall should first obtain the approval of their immediate supervisor and then contact George or Laragan by June 30. Participants should plan on committing several hours per week to the project from August through December.
As more engineers approach retirement age, it is important to have well qualified replacements, explains George, who helped coordinate the program with the Nampa School District. Experts predict a major shortage of engineers in the future unless more students are recruited into college programs.
Bringing real-world scenarios into the classroom from practicing engineers is one of the best ways of instilling enthusiasm among students.
TRAC is a structured, sequential program that complements existing curricula to explain the role of engineering in society to middle school and high school students. It includes a computer-modeling program, SimCity, which allows students to design and build a city, complete with highways, bridges, railroads and airports.
“By engaging students in solving real-world problems, TRAC connects kids to the work world of transportation,” according to program organizers. “And TRAC’s specific focus of improving workforce diversity helps resolve one of the most pressing problems faced by this predominately white male profession: how to draw talented women and minorities into the field of transportation.”
ITD’s participants included Laragan, Monica Crider, Pam Golden, Amy Schroeder, Erica Stoddard and Jeff Miles.
They demonstrated that professional engineering – typically dominated by men – also is wide open for women, George said.
“I like that the program introduces kids to real transportation engineering concepts through fun, hands-on modules while hopefully banishing the preconceived notion that engineers do nothing but crunch numbers all day long,” Golden said in reviewing her first-year experience.