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An Unusual Partnership: Transportation Engineering Outreach and Spanish Translation Program

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Attracting Young Minds: Part II

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.182.1 - 25.182.18

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Paper Authors


Rema Nilakanta Iowa State University

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Rema Nilakanta is the Program Coordinator of the K-12 outreach e-zines Go! and ¡Vamos! at the Institute for Transportation at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. She has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from Iowa State University and a master's in German from Rice University, Houston, Texas. Nilakanta's research interest lies in the study of technology in teaching and learning, especially in the area of designing online learning systems. She has worked extensively with faculty and teachers in STEM and non-STEM fields, students, and tech developers to research and develop online environments that promote democratic and equitable learning in secondary and higher education. Nilakanta has worked closely on national and international projects funded by the NSF and FIPSE-EU.

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Giada Biasetti Iowa State University

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Giada Biasetti is an Assistant Professor of Spanish at Iowa State University. Her areas of interest are 20th century Latin American literature, as well as translation and interpretation studies. She obtained her Ph.D. in Spanish at the University of Florida and an M.A. in comparative literature at Florida Atlantic University. She also holds a B.A. in foreign languages and linguistics with a double major in Spanish and Italian and a degree as a professional translator and interpreter from the Scuola Superiore per Interpreti e Traduttori in Milan, Italy.

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Shashi S. Nambisan P.E. Iowa State University

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Since 2007, Shashi Nambisan has been the Director, Institute for Transportation (InTrans) and a professor of civil engineering at Iowa State University (ISU) in Ames, Iowa. He previously served on the faculty at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for more than 17 years. He is a registered Professional Engineer in the state of Nevada. One of Nambisan’s passions is the development of the future transportation workforce. He enjoys working with students. His advisees have developed successful professional careers at universities or in the private and public sectors. Many of them serve in leadership positions in professional societies. He has taught 18 different undergraduate and graduate courses related to transportation as well as undergraduate capstone design courses. Nambisan also has been very active in leadership roles of several professional societies and organizations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), the Council of University Transportation Centers (CUTC), the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), and the Transportation Research Board (TRB). His current appointments include those as a member of the Educational Activities Committee, which reports to ASCE’s Board of Direction; Chair of the ASEE Civil Engineering Division; member of the Executive Committee of CUTC, and member of the AASHTO Research Advisory Committee-CUTC Liaison Group. For his contributions as an educator, researcher, and leader, Nambisan has received several awards and honors. Among the awards and honors he has received are the following: a proclamation by the Governor of Nevada designating Jan. 31, 2007 as the “Professor Shashi Nambisan Day,” in recognition of his leadership role in and contributions to enhancing transportation safety, and the Harry Reid Silver State Research award in 2005.

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An Unusual Partnership: Transportation Engineering Outreach and Spanish Translation ProgramThe field of transportation is facing significant challenges. Its workforce is declining due to anincreased number of people retiring, a smaller hiring pool due to reduced birth rates in the 1980s,and a low labor force growth rate. However, the demand for transportation has increaseddramatically since 1990. Attracting young people to transportation careers and educationalopportunities has become critical.Workforce development includes identifying, attracting, and retaining individuals, particularlyfrom the pre-college age group from diverse backgrounds (demographic, ethnic, socio-cultural,etc.) to address the myriad challenges found in a heterogeneous population that is becoming evenmore diverse. For example, the proportion of the Spanish speaking population in the US hasincreased over the past two decades and stands at 16.3% (2010 US Census). This rate of increaseis expected to continue into the future.The transportation community recognizes the workforce development need and has initiatedsteps to develop a focused effort to attract middle and high school students to transportationcareers. One of these efforts involves two web-based sister publications: Go! and ¡Vamos! inEnglish and Spanish, respectively. These e-zines contain short articles on people, technology,and careers in transportation as well as curricular connections to STEM (Science, Technology,Engineering, and Mathematics) content. This paper discusses creative strategies employed indeveloping and sustaining ¡Vamos! and the unanticipated results that continue to surprise theresearchers and developers.¡Vamos! was initiated in 2009 at a large university in the Midwest with one-year seed fundingfrom the state. It was created as the Spanish equivalent of the English magazine Go! and wasdesigned to reach the increasing number of Hispanic students entering the US school system.The publishers explored options to sustain ¡Vamos! beyond the 1 year of seed funding. In August2010 ¡Vamos! initiated a tentative working relationship with the Spanish academic program atthe university. The partnership began as a class experiment in a Spanish translation course wherestudents translated English articles from Go! into Spanish for ¡Vamos!. The class project quicklyevolved into a promising internship program involving students, faculty, and the Spanish-speaking community members. This unusual network of support has sustained ¡Vamos!. Further,this initiative has helped raise awareness among non-transportation student interns abouttransportation as a field of study and career. This approach also seems to be an effective teachingstrategy for language learning. Preliminary findings of changes in student perceptions oftransportation and learning outcomes will be presented at the conference.In addition to the new partnership, ¡Vamos! website underwent a major redesign in 2011summer, which transformed the site from an information disseminating portal to a dynamicforum aimed at engaging students directly and actively in transportation topics. Since theredesign of ¡Vamos! has recently been completed, meaningful web statistics for ¡Vamos! are notcurrently available. However, several months of data should be available in time for thesubmission of the draft paper and significantly more data will be available for the final paper andfor presentation at the 2012 Annual Conference.

Nilakanta, R., & Biasetti, G., & Nambisan, S. S. (2012, June), An Unusual Partnership: Transportation Engineering Outreach and Spanish Translation Program Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas.

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