Michael Baker Breathes New Life into AASHTO TRAC Program

March 30, 2016

Initiative to Spur Interest in STEM Fields Garners Recognition for Company’s Participation

Imagine what it must be like for middle schoolers to be involved in a classroom project where they get to design a bridge. Such hands-on experience at a young age can set someone on the path to becoming an engineer or an architect.

Michael Baker International team members are making that kind of a difference in classrooms in their community through the company’s sponsorship of Transportation and Civil Engineering (TRAC™), a hands-on, educational outreach program developed by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). TRAC complements science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum and targets low-income and minority students in schools in 22 states across the country.

TRACRide-2-(2).JPG“Coming from parents who were both teachers, I know the stress teachers can feel when it comes to supplies and keeping students interested,” said Alicia DeShasier, transportation engineer in Michael Baker’s Madison, Wis. office and an active classroom mentor for the TRAC program. “The [TRAC] modules are provided free of charge to the school, and the teachers are able to enhance their students’ experience.”

DeShasier and the Madison, Wis. office recently garnered recognition for their successful efforts to establish pilot TRAC programs in two of Wisconsin’s largest public school systems – Milwaukee Public Schools and Madison Public Schools. Earlier this winter, Michael Baker received the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary’s Golden Shovel Award, presented annually to groups instrumental to the success and progress of the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program. 

TRACRide7-(2).JPGThe TRAC program includes eight different modules for students:  Traffic Technology, Roadway Design and Construction, Motion and the Transportation Engineer, Magnetic Levitation, Highway Safety, Highway Development and the Environment, City Planning and Bridge Builder.

“It’s really about getting students interested in learning how to solve problems and how to apply their math and science skills to something practical,” DeShasier added.  “Bridge Builder is the most popular module.”

DeShasier and colleagues Sue Barker and Linda Krueger enjoy the opportunity to interact directly with both teachers and students during the Bridge Builder module, where students often have specific questions on what shapes and approaches will work to ensure that their bridge design is secure. Students who participate in Bridge Builder can also enter their design into AASHTO’s national TRAC Bridge Build Competition, where they must test their design in front of AASHTO officials and can compete for prizes. 

TRACRide_Bridge-Building-Competition_Jackson_0039-(2).jpgMichael Baker’s commitment to TRAC is extensive. DeShasier and Jim Twomey, the company’s national market lead for surface transportation, are on the committee that oversees the program across the nation. At Twomey’s urging, Michael Baker became a prime sponsor of the TRAC Bridge Build Competition to ensure that the program would remain viable for students seeking to test their math and science skills in a real-world scenario.

“I only hope that I can encourage some of these students that may not have considered civil engineering as a career to take what they’ve learned from the TRAC modules and continue on to a career that is fulfilling,” DeShasier said.