McTrans Builds On Transportation Students

The McTrans Center is well known internationally for its software, so programmers are the first personnel to come to mind. But McTrans has found that UFTI students are ideally suited to test software during implementation. “McTrans has been funding students to assist in several facets of the software development process from the beginning,” said Bill Sampson, director of the McTrans Center. “These students bring the ability to learn complex models that allows them to help guide programmers and test prototypes, becoming a vital link in our overall development process.”

Sampson says that transportation students at UFTI learn the Highway Capacity Manual (HCM) 2010 procedures, including their implementation within the HCS 2010, at such a detailed level that it adds greatly to their marketable skill sets. This detailed knowledge of the HCM 2010 is one of the qualities that makes the students such great assets to their future employers, knowing more than their future supervisors in most cases, he added.

A significant upgrade to the HCS 2010 is planned for release in late 2015 or early 2016, which will reflect a major update to the 2010 HCM from the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Highway Capacity and Quality of Service (HCQS) Committee and the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) project team. A series of beta tests will be coming out this year, but graduate students at McTrans will be working and testing the program long before it is released.

One such student is Michael Armstrong, a UFTI graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in civil engineering (transportation). At McTrans, Armstrong is helping to guide the implementation of the new Alternative Intersections and Interchanges content into HCS 2010, as well as testing the software as it progresses.

“I had always been active in organizations on campus, but I wanted something more hands-on where I could get involved with real-world projects,”  Armstrong said. “When Professor Sampson offered me an opportunity at McTrans, I took it and ran with it. Getting real practitioner experience is important. It bridges the gap between theory you learn in classroom and what actually happens.”

Working with the HCS 2010 led to filling another student need at McTrans.  Sampson teaches a Highway Capacity Analysis graduate course, and Armstrong was perfect for the role of teaching assistant. The learning material and coursework for Sampson’s class are taken directly from the HCM, but as a teaching assistant, Armstrong set out to give students a bit more of a challenge for their exercises and homework.

“HCM examples are at the corner of Elm and Main Streets, and come with a list of data,” Armstrong said. “We use real-life situations like University Avenue and 13th Street, so students can visualize the intersections and come up with the data. Knowing how to collect data is half the battle.”

Because of the rigorous transportation graduate program curriculum, Sampson will continue to tap into the valuable graduate student resource at UFTI to provide the testing and feedback on McTrans products.

“McTrans will always employ students,” Sampson said. “They fill a very important role in our work and we provide funding for their education – it has always been a win-win partnership. I sometimes hear from students we had working with us twenty years ago, now quite accomplished consultants or running their own very successful companies.”

Students offer new insights and a great deal of hard work to the programs of UFTI, and we are grateful for their contributions and ingenuity in the face of new and better concepts created through UFTI programs, Sampson added.