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Students get a glimpse at careers at Summer Transportation Institute

June 12, 2014 - By Kim Delker

Summer may be quiet for a lot of the University of New Mexico campus, but for some budding engineers, it's prime time to learn more about what an engineering career is like.

The School of Engineering is offering its annual Summer Transportation Institute (STI) at UNM through June 27. The program educates students about the array of job opportunities in the transportation industry and encourages students to pursue these careers.

Stefi Weisburd, School of Engineering education and outreach manager, said that 16 students are attending this year's program.

STI, which is a summer residential program geared toward low-income and underrepresented minorities in New Mexico and northeast Arizona, is in its 13th year at UNM. The program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Students attending STI will live in campus residence halls and will get crash courses in college-level math, English and computer technology. Using workshops that focus on techniques and skills for academic success at the college level, the curriculum will emphasize the major modes of transportation in the southwest region, including land, rail, and air. Students will also design, build, and test model bridges, engage in city planning activities, and go on transportation- and engineering-themed field trips.

And this year, thanks to a two-year "Going Places" grant from the UNITE U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program, 10 more local high school students will have the ability to attend on a commuter basis. Students attending STI under the UNITE grant are being paid to attend the institute and will receive an additional week of activities, through July 3.

This year, UNITE and STI students will attend presentations on smart lighting, nanoscience and solar cells through UNM’s National Science Foundation Engineering Research Centers (NASCENT, Smart Lighting and QESST). These students will get a sneak peak at research at the university level, working with graduate students and faculty members on research and hands-on activities that will include building robots, fabricating solar cells, racing solar cars, and touring labs.

"These programs help students get a foot in the door in STEM fields," Weisburd said. "Some realize early that engineering is not for them, but many others find they love it."

Katherine Love, special events coordinator for the School of Engineering, has been the coordinator for STI the last two years. She says the event is a lot of work to coordinate, but it's well worth the effort, especially when they see students who go on to choose an engineering career.

"It is quite rewarding to see the students gain confidence in the STEM subjects," she said.