Virtual activities introduce students to transportation topics, careers

NSTI camper shows off a popsicle stick bridge
With guidance from MnDOT bridge engineers, NSTI campers used popsicle sticks, glue, syringes, and plastic tubes to make working hydraulic bridges.

The pandemic prevented CTS from welcoming K–12 students to the U of M campus this summer, so we leveraged a variety of virtual activities to engage their interest in transportation from home.

In July, CTS offered a one-week virtual version of our annual National Summer Transportation Institute (NSTI). Fourteen students entering grades 7–9 attended the online camp, which aims to attract a diverse range of students to education and potential careers in transportation. NSTI is funded by the Federal Highway Administration and administered by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

Camp instructors and presenters from MnDOT, the City of Golden Valley, HDR, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and WSB used presentations and hands-on activities to introduce students to topics ranging from pedestrian safety to road construction to the environment.

“Our partners did an outstanding job of creating content that was engaging and interesting for the students,” says Claire Johnson, CTS camp coordinator. “We really appreciate the extra effort required to deliver their presentations and activities in a virtual environment.”   

The City of Golden Valley took NSTI campers on a series of virtual tours and equipment demos.

Campers took virtual tours of maintenance facilities and construction sites, watched virtual equipment demos, built “green machine” vehicles out of materials in their at-home recycling bins, and learned about pavement engineering by making their own asphalt cookies. Students also played our Gridlock Buster traffic control game, designed their own community street on the Streetmix website, and constructed their own small solar cars and hydraulic bridges from camp-provided kits.

Student-reported highlights included the asphalt cookie activity, building and showing off their bridges, and learning about various jobs related to transportation.

“My son would give me a recap after each session of the things he learned,” one parent said in an evaluation. “The projects were great!”

To reach a broad range of students beyond our NSTI campers, CTS also created a simplified, video-guided version of the bridge-building activity that kids can complete anytime, anywhere. By following along with “The Great Dinkytown Bridge Challenge” video, students can design, build, and assess a model bridge that meets real-world standards out of Legos, popsicle sticks, spaghetti, cardboard—whatever they have on hand! The activity is free to use and available to kids, parents, and teachers on the CTS website.

Earlier in the summer, CTS also partnered with Minnesota 4-H on a webinar focused on the theme of driving change through transportation, open to students in grades 3 and up. Part of the 4-H Engineering Design Challenge program, the June webinar featured guest speaker Katie Gilmore, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) program manager at MnDOT, sharing examples of drone technologies. Students joined in to hear Gilmore talk about how MnDOT is using UAS technology to solve problems, explore how drones will affect the future of transportation, and discuss exciting drone-related careers.

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Media Contact

Michael McCarthy
612-624-3645
mpmccarthy@umn.edu