By Kat J. McAlpine
In early September, a team from UConn’s Civil & Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department conducted a fun and educational learning activity for a group of 4th and 5th grade students at the East Hampton Public Library. The UConn delegation included Dr. Nicholas Lownes, Director of the Center for Transportation and Livable Systems (CTLS) and graduate students Kelly Bertolaccini (Transportation Systems) and Alex Bernier (Pavement Research). Their objective was to introduce the grade-schoolers to some of the issues involved in transportation and community planning.
Earlier in the summer, East Hampton library personnel invited the School of Engineering to conduct an on-site, hands-on outreach program as a way to familiarize young students with engineering careers. Dr. Lownes eagerly seized the opportunity and invited CEE graduate students to help him brainstorm age appropriate, hands-on lessons. Kelly and Alex volunteered to accompany Dr. Lownes on the library visit. They also developed the lesson plan and ordered special LEGO® components.
During their visit, the CTLS team briefly explained general concepts of transportation engineering to their young audience, such as how community design reflects the transportation systems available. They also touched upon some of the myriad elements in which transportation professionals are interested, including the interactions of pedestrians, vehicles and transit systems such as cars, planes and trains, and even oil pipelines. But the highlight for the kids was, without doubt, the opportunity to “engineer” and construct their own community plans using LEGOS – which led to an unscripted and entertaining attempt at creating the tallest LEGO skyscraper possible. When parents arrived as the one-hour program came to an end, the UConn team was warmed at the sight of the children bringing their parents into the activity room to show off their community models.
In addition to the program held at the East Hampton library, this CTLS outreach program also made an appearance at Mansfield’s Know-Your-Town Fair on September 11th. Dr. Lownes and his team are enthusiastic about their hopes to share this activity with more “future engineers” through additional local libraries and after-school programs. As Alex sums it up, “Many leading experts and inventors were inspired in their youth by something that stuck with them the rest of their lives- if we can influence the right children, we could be indirectly solving some of the world’s great transportation challenges.”
CTLS carries out diverse transportation-related research funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and other agencies. Learn more about the center’s research and outreach activities here.