Montana State University

Research Experience for Teachers
Innovative Transportation Systems (ITS-RET)


Program Overview:  Research Experience for Teachers in Innovative Transportation Systems (ITS-RET) is a six-week summer interdisciplinary research program for secondary school and community college STEM teachers in innovative transportation systems hosted by the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University. The project will develop teacher skills and new curricula that demonstrate development and testing of new technologies, infrastructure materials, simulation or spatial models, and algorithms designed to improve rural transportation. The research focus area of the program is on the unique challenges of rural transportation systems and the overarching theme will be on developing solutions to real world challenges through innovation. RET participants will work on research teams, participate in curriculum development workshops, and implement new teaching materials during a parallel summer program for high school students. Follow-up activities will include industry engagement and curriculum dissemination activities. 

Program Flyer:  .PDF Download

Program Dates: July 2, 2018 – August 10, 2018

Benefits:  Participants will receive:

Eligibility:  Community college faculty in engineering, construction, computer science, IT, or other STEM programs, and STEM or CTE secondary school teachers working in Montana or Nebraska are invited to apply. Teachers serving rural and tribal communities are strongly encouraged to apply.

Application deadline:  January 5, 2018

To apply:  Applicants must complete the application form (please download the form first before filling in the information) and submit the following additional items:

  1. Resume/CV
  2. Personal Statement (~500 words) to include:
    • Your expectations for the RET and why you are interested in participating in the program;
    • How you plan to implement changes to your classroom instruction based on your summer research experience;
    • What impact you would like your RET experience to have on your instructional practices and what impact you would like to see in your students as a result;
    • Explanation of your specific interests and what types of projects you would like to work on (see descriptions on webpage);
    • Any additional information that you would like to share with the program directors relevant to the selection process.
  3. A letter of recommendation from your Principal, Assistant Principal, or Department Head

Email all application materials by the application deadline to:

Background:  Transportation is an excellent vehicle for integrated STEM learning. The transportation system is used by all of us in everyday life, but most of us do not see how science, mathematics, engineering, and technological innovations play an important role in making the system safe, efficient, and environmentally sustainable. The ITS-RET program is expected to strengthen the capacity of STEM teachers and community college faculty to deliver content in new ways that mimic how innovative solutions are developed to complex challenges in the real world. The need for creativity and multidisciplinary approaches that integrate tools and processes from the STEM fields will be emphasized. Participants will conduct research and translate their research experiences into curricula that promotes student enthusiasm about STEM applications through engagement with familiar problems in rural communities.

The ITS-RET objectives are:

Research:  RET research projects will focus on the unique challenges of rural transportation systems with special attention paid to rural safety and operations, improving the longevity and overall utility of infrastructure, and improving communities through better mobility and access to services.

Sample projects for 2018, include:

Advanced Technology


Transportation Applications for Augmented Reality (AR) 

Augmented Reality (AR) is poised to fundamentally revolutionize our lifestyle. The promise of AR is to extend our awareness to sensors and autonomous processes that will permeate our environment by extending not only the reach of our natural senses, but by allowing us to perceive continually and in real-time near and far-off phenomena and people. For example, the integration of windshield heads up displays (HUD) and vehicular LIDAR will allow us to see the road beyond our line of sight. Vehicular sensors, DSRC communications, and mobile edge computing (MEC) will identify hazardous situations, such as an erratically driving vehicle, and make us aware of them.

To support this vision, we need new content delivery systems that will close the loop between IoT devices that sense our environment and wearable AR technology that allows us to interact with it.  Current content distribution networks (CDNs) are ill suited to deliver hyper-local AR objects and the hierarchical structure of CDN servers is too static. RET participants will work closely with the project investigators to explore a proposed alternative to existing network systems – the Augmented Reality Delivery Network (ARDN).

Rural Mobility

Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation in Small Urban and Rural Communities

Automobile dependence contributes to physical inactivity, poor health, traffic congestion, and environmental problems.   Engineering programs at universities across the country predominantly focus on auto-centric transportation systems. This research is focused on creating transportation systems that support biking, walking and transit travel. Offering transportation choices for people of all ages and abilities requires engineers, planners, public policy and health professionals to work together. 

RET participants will use public databases on health and transportation to inform decisions; utilize assessment tools to evaluate bike and pedestrian infrastructure; and implement a demonstration project to promote more walkable, bike-able and livable communities.

A Feasibility Study of a Driverless, Electric Para-Transit System in Rural Areas

People in rural areas predominantly rely on automobiles to reach healthcare, food, education, and recreational opportunities. Paratransit services that provide on-demand transportation service to the elderly and persons with disabilities play an important role to in rural communities, significantly improving the quality of life and reducing healthcare costs. However, they are especially costly to operate in rural areas. 

RET participants will conduct a feasibility study on a pilot paratransit system operated by driverless, electric vans that connect rural towns. The research will explore the likely benefit/cost ratio of such a system; community perceptions and attitudes towards autonomous systems; and additional barriers or incentives for implementing smart infrastructure in rural areas.

Sustainable Infrastructure


3D-Printed Bio-Based Composites for use in Structural Applications

Structural elements within the transportation infrastructure are oftentimes inefficient with respect to the quantity of materials used in their construction, and are typically made with non-sustainable materials.  This project will use topology optimization to determine optimal element shapes and configurations to meet structural demands and minimize material use. While topology optimization has been used in the past in similar applications, until recent advances in additive manufacturing (3D printing) it has not been feasible to construct these shapes in an efficient and rapid manner.  In addition to minimizing material use, sustainable bio-based composites will be used in the fabrication of these elements.  These composites consist of bio-based/biodegradable plastic binders with natural fibers, and will have a significantly smaller environmental impact than conventional building materials.

Non-Proprietary Ultra-High Performance Concrete (UHPC) for use in Transportation Applications

Ultra-high performance concrete (UHPC) has mechanical and durability properties that far exceed those of conventional concrete. Thus, elements made with UHPC have longer service lives, decreased maintenance costs, and are thinner/lighter than elements made with conventional concrete.  However, using UHPC in conventional concrete applications has been cost prohibitive, with commercially available/proprietary mixes exceeding $2,000 per cubic yard, which is about 20 times the cost of conventional concrete.  The proposed research will aim to develop and characterize non-proprietary UHPC mixes made with materials readily available in the Pacific Northwest.  These mixes are anticipated to be significantly less expensive than the commercially available UHPC mixes, thus allowing for the use of UHPC in construction projects in this region.  Further, if applicable, the proposed research project will also investigate the behavior of structural elements made with the newly developed UHPC mixes. The research experience includes development of an experimental design, materials testing, and analysis.