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Roads, Rails, and Race Cars: A STEM Educational Program for 4th-12th Grade Students

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

K-12 and Pre-college Engineering Curriculum and Programming Resources, Part 1 of 2

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1057.1 - 24.1057.13



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Paper Authors


Cynthia Marie Baker University of Nebraska, Lincoln - Mid American Transportation Center

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Cynthia Baker is the Educational Programs Coordinator for the Mid-America and Nebraska Transportation Centers. She is a Ph.D. student/Doctoral Candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Educational Psychology Department.

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Laurence R Rilett P.E. University of Nebraska, Lincoln

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Dr. Laurence R. Rilett is a Distinguished Professor of Civil Engineering and the inaugural holder of the Keith W. Klaasmeyer Chair in Engineering and Technology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). He also serves as Director of the UNL Mid-America Transportation Center and as Director of the UNL Nebraska Transportation Center.

He received his B.A.Sc. degree and his M.A.Sc. degree from the University of Waterloo and his Ph.D. degree from Queen’s University. He has held academic positions as an Assistant Professor and an Associate Professor at the University of Alberta and as an Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor at Texas A&M University (TAMU). Additionally, he is a Professional Engineer in the state of Texas.

Over the past twenty years, Rilett has taught undergraduate courses and graduate courses in statistics, risk analysis, traffic engineering, and transportation planning. He has been awarded two TAMU Department of Civil Engineering teaching awards: the Zachry Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1997 and the Dick and Joyce Birdwell Endowed Teaching Award for 1999. In 2001, he was honored as the inaugural holder of the E.B. Snead II Professorship at TAMU.

Dr. Rilett’s field of research is in the transportation system analysis area and his specific research may be divided into two main areas: Intelligent Transportation Systems applications and large-scale transportation system modeling. Dr. Rilett has been a principal investigator or co-principal investigator on over 30 research projects with total funding in excess of $25 million. The U.S. Department of Transportation, the National Science Foundation, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Nebraska Department of Roads, the Canadian Natural Science and Engineering Research Council, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Federal Railway Administration have sponsored his research.

He has authored or co-authored over 60 refereed journal papers and over 70 conference papers based on his research. In 2002, he was awarded the Texas Transportation Institute TTI/Trinity Researcher Award and in 2007 he was awarded the UNL College of Engineering Research Award. Dr. Rilett is an Associate Editor of the ASCE Journal of Transportation Engineering and on the editorial board of the Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems: Technology, Planning, and Operations.

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Gina M. Kunz

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Research Associate Professor and Assistant Director for Outreach, Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools
Director of Rural Outreach and Coordination, National Center for Research on Rural Education

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Gwen C. Nugent

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Research Professor
Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools

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Roads, Rails and Race Cars: a STEM Educational Program for 4th-12th Grade StudentsMany U.S. public school systems have experienced declining scores in standardized math andscience tests – of particular worry is the increasing disparity between the scores of studentsconsidered underprivileged and underserved amongst other peer groups. This trend is a concernfor the engineering field and has been identified as a major issue by the US Department ofTransportation as it is seen as a threat to the sustainability of the nation’s infrastructure andeconomic growth amid a growing demand for skilled workers within the transportation industry.Recognizing these concerns, a number of entities including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’sMid-America and Nebraska Transportation Centers, the Nebraska Department of Education andLincoln Public Schools, developed a consortium to address this issue. In 2010, this consortiumcreated and implemented an after school program to foster learning and engagement in science,technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) known as The Roads, Rails and Race Cars(RRRC) program. Since its inception, the program has delivered a transportation-basedcurriculum to over 700 primary and secondary school students in Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsinclassrooms.RRRC utilizes a science-as-inquiry approach in a club-based format. Club lessons and activitieshighlight real world applications of STEM concepts – emphasizing transportation issues thatstudents encounter in their daily lives – through a curriculum that was developed collaborativelyby partners from the fields of engineering, education and educational psychology. Clubs areguided by teams consisting of STEM teachers and college engineering student mentors, whomirror the rich diversity of the primary and secondary school systems. This positive rolemodeling and one-on-one attention are a key focus wherein the program encourages students toexplore STEM careers and discover paths to achievement. Further, clubs frequently featurecareer presentations by community professionals from the private sector to encourage this careerexploration.While establishing itself as a sustainable program model that positively impacts students, RRRChas also benefitted its multiple partners: K-12 teachers have received additional training inSTEM education that they can implement in their core classrooms; student mentors have gainedopportunities to improve their interpersonal and public speaking skills; and community partners,such as the Nebraska Trucking Association, have gained opportunities to reach out to their futureworkforce.Following highly successful middle school pilot programs, RRRC has expanded to include theelementary and high school levels, providing evidence of successful transferability across agegroups and locations. To date, club attendance has reached over 5,200 across 12 separateprogram sites and continues to be evaluated through qualitative and quantitative metrics in orderto ensure that the goals of the program are being met and to identify potential areas forimprovement.This paper describes an overview of the RRRC program development and goals, as well asprovides both pre and post measures of effectiveness and concluding remarks on future programapplications.

Baker, C. M., & Rilett, L. R., & Kunz, G. M., & Nugent, G. C. (2014, June), Roads, Rails, and Race Cars: A STEM Educational Program for 4th-12th Grade Students Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22990

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