Education and Workforce Development

The objective of the education and workforce development component of MATS UTC is to increase the number of transportation professionals with the knowledge to advance environmental sustainability in transportation. This will be accomplished through preparation of entering professionals at the university level, training of professionals currently employed in the transportation industry, and actions to attract new entrants to the transportation field.

University Education

As institutions of higher learning, the MATS UTC participants have extensive experience and a commitment to educating students at the university level to prepare them for substantive careers. In particular, MATS UTC members have a proven track record of preparing individuals for careers in transportation. You will find alumni of our programs in top positions in transportation agencies and firms. It is important to note that the programs represented by MATS UTC include those “traditionally” associated with transportation – for example civil engineering and urban planning, but also include programs as diverse as environmental science, business, public policy, as well as other engineering disciplines such as systems and information engineering and mechanical engineering.

The majority of the MATS UTC effort at the university level will be focused on attracting students to, and improving educational offerings in graduate programs. MATS UTC institutions’ experience has been that student preparation and accreditation demands allows for general education at the undergraduate level. It is at the graduate level where universities have the opportunity to provide in-depth education necessary for full preparation for the transportation industry. MATS UTC will focus its resources on three initiatives at the graduate level: financial support for students in transportation-focused fields, development and delivery of a new graduate course in transportation environmental sustainability, and a multi-university seminar series on transportation environmental sustainability.

Financial Support of Students

A significant deterrent to graduate studies is the high cost of university education. It is well documented that more and more students complete their undergraduate education with substantial debt. As a result, the prospect of pursuing graduate studies and incurring more debt is, at best, unattractive, and in many cases, impossible. Coupling this with the high demand for strong students (particularly in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math) in industries such as information technology, the transportation industry “loses” many potential leaders before they have the opportunity to fully explore this critical area. The MATS UTC participants will use federal and match funding to support strong students in transportation-related fields in the form of assistantships (often coupled with participation in MATS UTC research), fellowships, and scholarships.

Finally, another way that the MATS UTC will use funds to attract more students to graduate programs is through paid undergraduate student internships. A particularly effective way to expose undergraduate students to the transportation industry is through paid internships. MATS UTC will fund undergraduate interns to be involved in research, as well as to conduct projects with government and industry partners.

Development and Delivery of Transportation Environmental Sustainability Course

A collaborative initiative of MATS UTC will be to develop and deliver a graduate-level course on Transportation Environmental Sustainability. This will be done in a way to take advantage of the strengths of the partners, and will also utilize the latest in distance learning technology to allow the course to be offered at all campuses simultaneously. The course will take advantage of the experience that many of the MATS UTC members have developed in offering sustainability programs and minors at the undergraduate level (for example, the University of Delaware’s Minor in Sustainable Infrastructure and the University of Virginia’s Interdisciplinary Minor in Global Sustainability). However, it will be tailored to address the specific issues and challenges related to transportation environmental sustainability.

Development and delivery of the course will be led by UVA. At this time, topics
expected to be addressed in the course include:

  • Sustainability Concepts
    • Case studies of sustainability in other industries
  • Life-cycle Assessment
  • Vehicle Technology
  • Policy
  • Project-Level Sustainability Rating Systems

Once the Center begins operation, UVA will form a steering committee with other MATS UTC members and refine the topics. Then, using experts from across the center, modules will be developed for the course in the summer and fall of 2014. The first offering of the course will be targeted for Spring 2015.

MATS UTC will take advantage of the distance learning resources of the UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science to develop the course for delivery in an online format. Once this is complete, all MATS UTC campuses will offer the course in a pilot mode in the Spring of 2015. Based on feedback, the course will be refined and revised for future offerings.

Transportation Environmental Sustainability Seminar Series

Seminars have long proved to be an effective tool for use in graduate programs to educate students on the latest issues and advances. This will be especially important in environmental sustainability in that it is changing rapidly in transportation. Of course, a challenge for any institution is to attract the best speakers and physically transport them to its campus. By teaming together, MATS UTC expects to be able to deliver a high-quality seminar series focused on transportation sustainability. Again, taking advantage of distance learning technology – the seminars will be shared throughout the region with a provision for direct speaker interaction at all locations.

Non-Degree Workforce Development Programs

Two of the universities in our consortium (UVA and UD) deliver the Local Transportation Assistance Programs (LTAPs) for their respective states.  A third consortium member, MU, offers additional workforce development programs in West Virginia. Programs at these universities vary from full-day workshops offered to transportation professionals, to a specialized eight-day Transportation Project Management Institute emphasizing engineering project development and offered annually to 30 project managers.

The MATS UTC federal budget includes $150,000 which will be used specifically to strengthen the environmental sustainability-related activities of the three university workforce development and training programs. The MATS UTC plans to take advantage of materials developed for the transportation environmental sustainability graduate course described above to create four 2-hour modules for delivery through the existing workforce development programs.  These modules will be delivered both (a) through distance learning to allow a wide set of professionals throughout the region to access to the material, and (b) bundled into traditional a 1-day in-person short course – to reach students most comfortable with this learning approach.  In both cases, upon completion of all 4 modules, students will be presented with a certificate in transportation environmental sustainability.

In addition, based on the judgment of MATS UTC leadership, upon consultation with the advisory panel, a subset of the presentations for the graduate seminar series will be opened up for broader participation through the workforce development programs.  This will serve to increase awareness of key sustainability issues among existing transportation professionals.

Attract New Entrants into Transportation

The sections above provide detail on how MATS UTC plans to prepare students for the transportation industry, and how the consortium will support individuals already in the field.  The center will also seek to complement this activity in order to actively attract new individuals to the field. This will be accomplished (a) through outreach efforts to high school students making career plans, and (b) linking university students with government and industry.

Outreach to high school students will be accomplished by taking advantage of mature programs existing at MATS UTC institutions. Example events and activities related to the recruitment of students include VDOT’s “Transportation:  Your Ride to the Future!” October career fair that included participants from UVA and VT and over 1000 high school attendees.  Given the growing environmental conscience of our youth, MATS UTC will create sustainability focused materials to help students see the important role that transportation plays in the environment. Furthermore, the Summer Institute at Morgan State University (described in the Diversity section below), will also play an important role.  All of our universities participate in programs designed to attract students, particularly women and minority students to transportation careers. The MATS UTC budget includes federal funds to use for related outreach activities and recruitment of students to transportation.

Finally, the greatest graduate program in the world is not effective if students are not linked with potential employers from government and industry. This last “step” is critical to ensure the knowledge gained in the program is applied to the transportation industry. MATS UTC will rely heavily on the advisory panel as a conduit to their organizations. In addition, the center will exploit contacts of affiliated faculty and staff to actively seek to “place” graduates. Finally, we plan to hold career networking events at the MATS UTC annual meetings, and share resumes of students via the center website.