With teams of secondary school students flocking to Park City, Utah, to compete in the final round of the 2019 American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials National Bridge Challenge competition — an event that is part of the organization's annual spring meeting — the Utah Department of Transportation engaged in a "future workforce recruiting" effort.
On May 20, the day before the bridge competition finals, the Utah DOT organized a tour of its Traffic Operations Center in Salt Lake City, busing the students, their parents, and teachers to the facility for a day-long tour, complete with a buffet lunch.
The tour included a detailed overview of the TOC's traffic camera control room and its weather center, where up to 12 meteorologists work to analyze statewide weather patterns that could impact roadway conditions.
The students also visited with one of Utah DOT's incident management teams parked in front of the building and attended presentations on structural engineering, traffic signal design and development, drone operation, and autonomous vehicles.
"You can't stop learning in transportation," emphasized Blaine Leonard, Utah DOT's technology and innovation engineer, during his presentation to the students.
Leonard — a key architect of the agency's "first-in-the-nation" connected and autonomous vehicle or CAV system that uses Designated Short Range Communications or DSRC radios to help Utah Transit Authority buses "talk" to traffic signals so they arrive at their stops on time — stressed that "everything I work with now in transportation was invented after I graduated from college. And the day may come when we potentially won't need to drive. And you — and your children — will be at the forefront of that."
Matt Dunn, assistant district engineer of maintenance with the Mississippi Department of Transportation — who served as the announcer for the event — noted that all of the students participating in the competition represented "the future" of the transportation industry.
"We need young minds like theirs to think outside the box and help strengthen our transportation system," he explained. "We need young people to be interested in transportation and pursue these jobs so they can provide the future workforce for the state DOTs. And its events like these are what attracts middle and high school students to the field of transportation engineering."
"The students of the future presenting here are unbelievable," added Carlos Braceras, Utah DOT's executive director and AASHTO's 2018-2019 president, during the event. "We hope to help them design their future through such competitions, for we never have enough engineers in transportation."