University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of EngineeringOnline: Spring 2011
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UNL engineers lead middle school club with hands-on transportation learning

Culler student photoCuller Middle School student Carlos Mendoza shared learning from his Roads, Rails and Race Cars experiences, mentored by Nebraska Engineering representatives including (from left, in red lanyards) civil engineering graduate student Scott Sorensen and Professor Larry Rilett.

Twenty youngsters revved their engines for science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning with Roads, Rails and Race Cars, an after-school club at Lincoln’s Culler Middle School. Their mentors were graduate students from Nebraska Engineering’s Mid-America Transportation Center.

The college representatives led a semester of varied hands-on activities on Monday afternoons at Culler. One topic was SAFER barriers--developed at UNL and used at NASCAR tracks to save lives in crashes. Another session shared global positioning system (GPS) and laser radar (LIDAR) devices to detect speeding traffic on busy Vine Street near the school’s entrance.


Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel praised the interaction as “opportunities for students to connect what they learn with what they want to become.”

After attending MATC's Professional Development Science and Math Summer Institute, Culler science teacher Mary Herrington proposed the transportation-themed after-school club to help the school’s sixth, seventh and eighth graders engage in STEM topics and think about possible careers.

MATC Director Larry Rilett worked with research faculty Gina Kunz and Gwen Nugent of UNL's Center for Youth, Families and Schools to secure funding through a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“It’s my favorite part of the week,” said UNL student Scott Sorensen. He learned, too; for his first time planning curriculum, he prepared a lesson about erosion with milk as the liquid wearing down pudding as soil.

Culler eighth grader Radious Walker-Woods discussed building bridges from drinking straws and tape, and learning the value of support beams and deflection in her design.

In June, several MATC grad students were set to help with "Camp Cougar" -- a summer program (named for the Culler mascot) for with a unit focusing on transportation engineering.

-Carole Wilbeck


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