Tales from TRB: beyond engineers and planners

Wednesday, Jan. 26 dispatch from the TRB annual meeting in Washington, D.C.:

With transportation-related professions changing rapidly, the classroom needs to reflect or, better, drive those changes. Sessions throughout this week's Transportation Research Board annual meeting focused on classroom innovation in transportation education, with faculty at OTREC universities often in the forefront.

Those discussions continued Wednesday while the focus widened. Innovation within the classroom is needed, but it’s not enough. Increasingly, developments in transportation education need to incorporate the learning and training potential of the outside world.

The session “Transportation Education and Training Beyond the Traditional Classroom” featured four presentations, including one from OTREC visiting scholar Geoff Rose of Monash University in Australia. Rose’s presentation focused on online discussion forums.

Titled “Nurturing Student Learning in Transport Planning and Policy Through Assessable Online Discussions,” Rose’s presentation approached the forums as a supplement to traditional classroom instruction.

Teams from Southern Illinois University and from Louisiana State University and Louisiana Transportation Research Center internships and virtual learning environments, respectively. Karen Glitman, a program manager at the University of Vermont, gave a stirring presentation on workforce development.

Even with many jobs in short supply for the short term, transportation professions face a labor crisis in the coming years, as many workers retire. Not every transportation job requires an engineering or planning degree, and Glitman stressed the importance of looking beyond traditional sources of workers.

For many transportation jobs, including front-line maintenance positions, agencies have too often overlooked fruitful recruitment opportunities. Glitman looked at Vermont’s attempt to reach out to attracting parolees, returning veterans and people with mobility impairments. Limiting the concept of what a worker should look like only serves to worsen any coming workforce crisis, she said.

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