Dr. Brian Wolshon, professor and Director of the Center for Emergency Transportation and Evacuation Resiliency at Louisiana State University (LSU) and member of the Cooperative Mobility for Competitive Megaregions (CM2) consortium, has been actively participating in educational and outreach activities with the support of Nelida Herrera, a funded Research Associate at Louisiana State University. Dr. Wolshon and Ms. Herrera have been participating in camps held every summer on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. These week-long summer camps are organized by the college of engineering to provide an opportunity for faculty and college students to interact with high school students through hands-on workshops and activities. Dr. Wolshon was excited to note that, “the sessions that we host every summer are one of the highlights of our annual calendar of UTC-sponsored activities!”
On July 12th, 2018, Ms. Herrera organized a session of hands-on activities for the Recruiting into Engineering High-Ability Multicultural Students (REHAMS) summer camp. This summer camp is offered every year to rising 11th and 12th grade students and provides an opportunity to explore, create, and compete in a variety of engineering and college preparatory activities to encourage interest in STEM. Gabrielle Taylor, an LSU undergraduate student worker supported by CM2, assisted Ms. Herrera during the activity.
The activity began with a short presentation and Q&A session about planning and design. The 33 students that attended the session were then divided into six groups. Each group built a city on a piece of white cardboard representing their “city limit”.
The students were provided toothpicks and gummies that served as building blocks for houses, schools, grocery stores, hospitals, warehouses, etc. They were also provided paper roads, traffic signs and traffic signals to build a transportation system that would provide accessibility and connectivity.
To mimic the realities of urban planning in cities, they were limited by design constraints, time, and resources. For example, students needed to design their cities around hypothetical lakes, rivers, wetlands, underground pipelines, street light poles, and trees. Their structures also needed to support the weight of a book without failing.
Students were only provided with a limited number of toothpicks, gummies, paper roads, and paper traffic signs and traffic signals. This showed the importance of budgeting to spend the resources as effectively as possible and encouraged students to think about ways to make limited resources work. Ms. Herrera indicated that, “students are always asking for more materials. I tell them that the amount they received is what was within their hypothetical budget. This sparks their creativity by thinking about ways to do the most they could with what they have available.”
Once the teams finished building their cities, these were connected to create what would resemble a parish, region, state, or even a megaregion. At the end of the session, the students were proud to present their cities. Ms. Herrera noted that “the students were engaged throughout the session as they planned, built, and connected their cities!”
Programs like this are supported by technology transfer initiatives of the UTC grant. Dr. Wolshon shared that, “USDOT UTC support gives us the opportunity to reach out to local youth in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana region. It is truly an honor and a privilege for both Nelida and I to encourage the development of the next generation of transportation engineers and planners. We hope that our work will ignite a passion for the field and, hopefully one day, even inspire some of them to pursue a career in transportation engineering – or other STEM fields.”
This news article was written by Nelida Herrera, a Research Associate at Louisiana State University.