White Earth

RSI staff and local transportation professionals taught classes
about safe travel to White Earth Nation students.

The University of Minnesota (U of M) Extension has a longstanding partnership with the White Earth Nation in northwestern Minnesota to operate a summer day-camp program for 40 reservation youth in grades 4 to 8. This year, the Roadway Safety Institute (RSI) sponsored one day of the two-week camp in June. The program focuses on hands-on learning and uses Indian culture and heritage as a vehicle for studying math, science, and engineering.

RSI staff taught several classes about safe travel in a variety of modes. Students experimented with reflectivity to understand safe pedestrian and bike travel and studied GIS mapping. The dangers of distracted driving and walking were also demonstrated by testing students’ reaction time. Connections to students’ heritage included Ojibwe vocabulary lessons and discussions of local animals’ travel patterns and traits and associating them with GIS maps.

Through these interactive lessons, students deepened their science and math skills while learning practical information about being safe travelers. Local engineers and a 3M representative also participated, sparking students’ desire to pursue higher education and STEM careers. “Through these lessons, students gained an understanding of safe travel practices,” says Colleen O’Connor Toberman, program coordinator for the RSI. “Our goal is that they become models for safe travel in their community.”


“It was our pleasure having the RSI team at the White Earth program. The lessons were very engaging, and our students enjoyed the varied topics,” says Deb Zak, regional director of the U of M Extension’s Northwest District. “We would love to have RSI participate in our camp again in 2016.”

The Institute also participated in several other summer camps. Two camps were part of the USDOT’s National Summer Transportation Institute (NSTI) program, which is designed to attract and introduce students from diverse segments of society to education and career opportunities in transportation. RSI hosted 10 students in grades 7–11 from the Red Lake Nation on June 15 as part of its NSTI summer camp program. Students toured the Minnesota Traffic Observatory (MTO) and learned about traffic safety from Chen-Fu Liao, MTO’s senior systems engineer.

In July, RSI staff helped introduce the next generation of the workforce to transportation safety topics and careers during a two-week NSTI summer camp held on the U of M—Twin Cities campus. Twenty-nine students entering seventh through ninth grade attended, getting hands-on experience with topics ranging from distracted driving to aeronautics to traffic management.

The camp was sponsored by the Center for Transportation Studies with funding from the Federal Highway Administration that was administered by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). As part of the program, attendees toured campus, visited the U of M’s transportation-related labs, and learned about aspects of transportation that included human factors, roadway safety, bridge design, surveying, and traffic simulation. RSI/CTS program coordinator Colleen O’Connor Toberman presented a session on retroreflectivity; RSI researcher Nichole Morris and research assistant J.P. Plummer led a session on human factors and gave a tour of the HumanFIRST driving simulator; and senior research analysis specialist Katie Fleming, with MnDOT, led a session on crash data analysis.

In post-program evaluations, parents reported that their children had learned valuable information about transportation topics, careers, and related education opportunities. “[The program] opened up my daughter’s horizon for future career choices and major focus areas after high school,” one parent said.

The Institute also participated in the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering’s DiscoverSTEM summer program, with Morris and Plummer leading a session on human factors. The twenty-five high school students attending listened to a lecture and toured the driving simulator.

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