Camps give students firsthand look at opportunities in transportation

NSTI students toured the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport.NSTI students toured the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport. CTS helped middle and high school students explore a wide range of transportation topics—from automated vehicles and drones to roadway construction and bridge design—in a series of camps and activities held at the U of M this summer. 

In July, CTS hosted 31 campers in our fifth year of the National Summer Transportation Institute (NSTI). This free two-week program, open to students entering grades 7–9, aims to attract a diverse range of students to education and potential careers in transportation. The camp is funded by the Federal Highway Administration and administered by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

This year’s cohort explored a number of transportation facilities and projects across the Twin Cities during their field trips to the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport, Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO), Metro Transit, Hennepin County Public Works, CHS Port of Savage, and I-35W MnPASS construction project. These visits offered our campers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of transportation in action and allowed our partners to introduce the next generation of the workforce to key concepts and career opportunities.

“We have found this group to be really fun, inquisitive, and engaged,” says Abby Moore, training and community learning specialist at MWMO, which has hosted NSTI tours for the past three summers. “As an organization, we are committed to supporting environmental career exposure and development. For young people who are exploring careers in transportation, it is really important to demonstrate how urban infrastructure and land-use choices ultimately impact water quality and habitat.”

In their on-campus and classroom sessions, NSTI students toured the U of M’s bike and pedestrian infrastructure, learned about the dangers of distracted driving from UPS Road Code, got an up-close look at drones during a demonstration by Braun Intertec, and explored how GPS helps make automated vehicles work in an activity led by mechanical engineering research fellow Brian Davis. In addition, campers worked together on a group bridge-building project that was showcased at the camp’s closing ceremony.

Red Lake NSTI students completed MnDOT’s bridge-in-a-bag activity.Red Lake NSTI students completed MnDOT’s bridge-in-a-bag activity. “My child literally loved all parts of camp so it’s hard to pick just one [favorite activity],” one parent said. “She loved the field trips and experiences, learning from the experts and camp staff, and hanging out with kids from all over the metro and from different backgrounds.”

CTS also hosted a session for another NSTI camp in July. Eight high school girls participating in the program offered by Red Lake Nation College visited the U of M, where they heard from a transportation career panel featuring members of WTS Minnesota, experimented with MnDOT’s bridge-in-a-bag activity, and tried their hands at design in an AutoCAD lesson.

In other summer programs, Brian Davis introduced more students to automated vehicle concepts. In June, he conducted his GPS activity, which included using smartphones to find GPS coordinates on campus, for 25 ninth-grade girls in the Eureka! Program. This partnership between the U’s College of Science and Engineering and YWCA Minneapolis helps girls explore STEM-related careers and prepare for next steps in their education.

In August, Davis led a more advanced session for 25 high school students in Discover STEM, a week-long summer camp offered by the U of M’s College of Science and Engineering. Students in this camp learned about both automated vehicles and human factors; activities included calculating GPS distances and accuracy, watching a demo of a small automated vehicle, and taking a spin in the HumanFIRST Lab’s driving simulator.