Montana State University

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


Program Overview:  The 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 middle school students. Follow-up activities will include curriculum dissemination activities. 

Download the program flyer: Research Experience for Teachers in Innovative Transportation 2020 

Program Dates: June 21 – July 30, 2021. [Note: The 2020 program has been postponed until summer 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic]

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:  February 7, 2020

To apply:  Applicants must complete the either the RET ITS application (PDF) or RET ITS application (MS Word) version of 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 and curricula from past programs include:

Rural Mobility, Safety, and Operations

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. 

 Tactical Urbanism for Traffic Calming and Safety lesson plans:

Tactical Urbanism 1

Tactical Urbanism 2

Tactical Urbanism 3


Assessing Safety Benefits of Infrastructure Improvements Using Crash Data

Maintaining safety on the highway system has been a top priority for most highway agencies in the US given the heavy toll in deaths and casualties associated with traffic crashes. The limited funds available to highway agencies for safety improvements require a careful consideration of sites that are more promising in improving safety at the network level. This requires a good understanding of the safety benefits of various safety countermeasures, which is critical in conducting economic analyses.

The project assesses the safety benefits of two infrastructure improvements using before-after crash data from sites where these improvements have been implemented. Assessing safety benefits of various safety improvements is critical for highway agencies in reaching an optimum use of limited safety improvement funds.

Sustainable Infrastructure Materials and Practices

Highway Crossings for Wildlife: Providing Safe Passage for People and Animals

During the most recently reported 15-year period, the total number of vehicle crashes in the U.S. has held roughly steady, at around 6 million crashes annually. Over the same time period, however, the percentage of crashes involving wildlife rose by 50%, from roughly 200,000 to 300,000. These crashes result in 200 human fatalities and over 26,000 injuries each year, at an annual cost to Americans of more than $8 billion. In addition to direct wildlife mortality, roads also have other harmful effects including loss of habitat and the potential to act as barriers to wildlife movement and gene flow (Huijser et al. 2008).

Yet, unlike many environmental issues we face today, there are scientifically proven solutions to this problem. One such counter measure, wildlife crossing structures that go over and under our nation’s roadways, if properly sited and with associated fencing, have been shown to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions by up to 97%. The project identifies potential incentives for increasing deployment of crossing structures, where appropriate, by exploring and identifying methods for overcoming cultural and institutional barriers to deployment of wildlife crossing structures.

Winning for Wildlife Lesson Plans

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.