ITD volunteers returned to the classroom this fall with changes planned for the Transportation and Civil Engineering (TRAC) program the department and the Nampa School District have offered students the past two years.
While the TRAC PACS – self-contained classroom educational modules – remain, ITD’s school outreach team is working to expand transportation components to students, including materials, aeronautics and environmental.
“The program is going in a slightly different direction this year,” explained Greg Laragan, assistant chief engineer (operations) and leader of the ITD volunteers since 2006. “Instead of relying on the TRAC modules from AASHTO, we will be providing subject matter experts who can talk to the classes about topics that have been selected by each teacher to best fit into their curriculum.
“This will allow us to deepen the pool of ITD volunteers, because the volunteers will no longer have to be familiar with the TRAC module materials,” he added. “We can match the volunteer to the topic that has been requested. The teachers can be more flexible because they don’t have to try to fit their curriculum around the TRAC modules.“
“However, if there is a good fit in a specific situation, we can still take advantage of the TRAC modules.”
“We may be reaching out to the ITD family for a variety of subject matter experts,” said Michelle George, TRAC coordinator for ITD. “There is a new excitement in the program, with more partnering opportunities and application of a more broad-based curriculum.
“We are working now to reach students for the transportation jobs of the future,” George explained.
Students want to know what transportation professionals do on a daily basis or what it means to be an engineer, she said. Site visits to ITD’s materials lab and valley highway projects will help connect the classroom work to real-life situations.
“Students learn that things aren’t always as simple as they might appear,” George said.
The ITD / Nampa School District partnership provides motivation and helps students realize their academic and technical courses are relevant in the work world. They also learn how professionals apply that knowledge.
“The work done by students within the projects and simulations, under the supervision of the ITD professionals, has brought the reality of the industry into the classroom and has certainly had a positive impact on both students and faculty,” said Rod Stearns, professional-technical education programs coordinator for the school district.
While the prospect of moving the program in a slightly different direction is not without challenges, “We are excited to nurture and continue to develop the team and the partnership,” he explained.
“The ITD employees (volunteers) get to be part of a unique program and to share their enthusiasm for what they do,” Laragan said. “The teachers and students gain a greater awareness and appreciation of the variety of work that goes on in a transportation department, which in turn leads to their interest in positions with ITD in the future.
“It is ITD’s intent to be as flexible as possible to meet the educational needs while demonstrating to the students the benefits of a career in transportation,” he added.