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UNL Summer Institute road tests engineering learning for teachers, students

Summer is a time when learning can be more like play. In July 2012, the Mid-America Transportation Center at UNL conducted its sixth annual Engineering Excellence Summer Institute, gathering teachers and middle school students for multi-day activities that keep participants safer in their travels, while engaging applied science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) topics.

Educators at the institute learn new ways to teach math and science, with content from civil engineering areas. Middle school students at the institute try the teachers’ new lessons intended to get their wheels turning for future careers. Throughout the event, institute guests take a variety of tours, including the crash test site of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, and gain inside access to other UNL programs. Participants tried MATC’s speed-detecting radar and GPS devices, and visited the flume lab in UNL's College of Engineering for water wisdom.

This year, students became voices of transportation safety when they got a dose of the dangers of distracted driving. Beyond viewing cautionary videos, they measured reaction times--with and without technological device distractions--to drive home the message that using a cellular phone (and especially texting) while driving can lead to serious collisions and injuries.

Since it began in 2006, MATC’s Summer Institute has offered professional development for 79 teachers; it has also introduced 391 students to transportation engineering. The institute was developed by Larry Rilett, a UNL professor and director of MATC. He worked with sponsors and partners including UNL's Center for Youth, Families and Schools and the U.S. Department of Transportation to shape the offerings, and his civil engineering graduate students enthusiastically work with each summer’s sessions.