Transportation Center gets kids moving in right direction

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KINGSTON, R.I. – Aug. 3, 2010 – What is the most effective way to design a bridge? How do you determine the most efficient means for transporting cargo? What are the keys to constructing and maintaining a highway?

You may not know the answers, but there are dozens of middle school students from around the state who do. Thanks to the University of Rhode Island Transportation Center’s Summer Transportation Institute, 40 students in grades seven through nine are taught about highway and bridge design, road construction and maintenance, cargo transportation and more.

The Institute runs twice during the summer, for two weeks each time. The first session ran in July, and the second session started Monday and runs through August 13. With 20 students in each session, the groups allow for every participant to get a hands-on experience.

“The Institute gets the students engaged in learning,” said Jeffrey Cathcart, director of URI’s Transportation Center. “This is a very hands-on experience for them. We could lecture to them all day long, but that would not be effective. We get them involved.”

Students chosen for the program must have at least a 2.0 grade-point average and an interest in science, engineering, transportation or technology. The program has proven to be effective, as several former participants now attend the University in related programs. Cathcart mentioned Maria Beltre, who participated in the first Summer Institute several years ago and is now a third-year civil engineering student at URI.

“Someone gave Maria a flier about the Institute when she was younger,” Cathcart said. “She took an interest, and it shaped her decision on what to study. We are seeing more and more on campus that have been past participants.”

Sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, the Institute features field trips that include boat rides on Narragansett Bay and a visit to T.F. Green Airport.

“This is a way to give students more of an awareness of potential careers early on,” Cathcart said. “Through the experience here, the students get a flavor for the opportunities that exist, and they get a better sense of the proper courses they can take to position themselves in a field that interests them.”