Student Endowment Fund: March/April

The March/April spotlight was written by David Hurwitz, Ph.D., FITE, Professor of transportation engineering and Student Chapter Advisor at Oregon State University (OSU).

Reflections on the importance of ITE Student Chapters and the potential impact of Student Chapter Advisors on the future of the Institute

Who am I Professionally?

I am a Professor of transportation engineering, the Eric H.I. and Janice Hoffman Faculty Scholar, and Director of the Driving and Bicycling Simulator Laboratory in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering at Oregon State University (OSU). I also serve as the Associate Director at OSU for the Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium (PacTrans). I conduct research in the areas of transportation human factors, traffic control, transportation safety, driving & bicycling simulation, and engineering education. In particular, I am interested in the consideration of user behavior in the design and innovation of transportation systems. I teach graduate and undergraduate classes covering topics such as Highway Engineering, Traffic Operations, Isolated Signalized Intersections, and Driving Simulation. I am an active contributor to a variety of professional societies related to transportation engineering, with a particular emphasis on ITE. 

A bit about my History with ITE

My first ITE meeting was at a monthly meeting of the UMass Amherst ITE Student Chapter in 2003. I recall how welcoming the students were, how much folks enjoyed each other’s company, and all the interesting activities the chapter was involved in. It was also my first exposure to graduate students outside of an occasional interaction with a Teaching Assistant. That experience resulted in seven years of active participation in the chapter culminating in a year as President of the chapter which, was the first year UMass Amherst received the Outstanding Chapter of the Year Recognition from ITE International in its 20-year history. 

I was very lucky to have an exceptional mentor in Dr. Michael Knodler when I was a student chapter member at UMass Amherst, and I was committed to passing what I had learned onto a future generation of students. I joined the faculty at OSU in 2009 as an Assistant Professor of transportation engineering and in 2012 I had the opportunity to start serving as the OSU ITE Student Chapter Advisor, a role I continue to serve in. When I started at OSU, I consciously chose to make service to our chapter a significant element of my professional service. 

In 2010 I was appointed as an executive committee member of the ITE Education Council. Presently I am serving my second year as Chair of the council. In collaboration with a group of wonderfully caring transportation educators, we are working hard to provide value to ITE members. Our guiding principle states that “we engage transportation Educators, Practitioners, and students to advance the transportation workforce.” Supporting the development of transportation professionals has always been one of my career goals. As such, the Education Council is strongly aligned with my professional interests.    

Why are Student Chapters of Critical Importance to the Institute?

In my experience as an undergraduate student, graduate student, and faculty member, ITE student chapters have always served as an easy pathway to constructing meaningful relationships with students, faculty, and professionals in the transportation domain. From the perspective of retaining students in higher education, and particularly within STEM, the strongest determinant of retention is the existence of one meaningful relationship.  

They also offer the opportunity to pursue new technical knowledge, to apply knowledge derived from the classroom, and to reinforce theoretical knowledge with actual experience applying engineering practice. All of this leads to a deeper and more robust learning experience for transportation students.  

Educators regularly hear from the industry that there is a need to improve the softer skills of students exiting university degree programs. Those skills can include communication (e.g., written and verbal), teamwork (e.g., independent and collaborative), and an ability to know when and how to ask questions. All of these skills can be developed and refined through active participation in ITE Student Chapter activities. 

Additionally, Student Chapters present an opportunity for students to practice and demonstrate leadership during an early career phase. Students have the opportunity to lead groups of people to accomplish goals that are greater than those possible if pursued individually and which at best occur infrequently. These experiences can help to inform philosophies of leadership and can provide students an early sense of what roles they might be most interested in pursuing as their careers progress. Lastly, these experiences can help to put the next generation of ITE leaders on the radar of decision-makers at the institute.  

Why should Educators and Professionals Consider Serving as Advisors?

ITE Student Chapters provide a low-risk environment for students to engage in transportation in such a way that promotes the recruitment and retention of the best and the brightest students to the transportation domain. The advisor can serve as an effective pathway to connecting interested students with a robust platform of extracurricular experiences. 

Never be concerned with starting a new chapter or taking over an existing chapter. There are professors all over the country who want nothing more than to see an excellent chapter at every university with a transportation curriculum. The only performance goal that should matter is the pursuit of positive incremental improvement year after year. Great chapters take years of an intentional effort to develop, but the reward of a well-functioning Student Chapter is the immense value proposition it presents to student members. 

It is essential that university faculty participate in an advisory role for these chapters to provide students with seamless access to university resources and to leverage our collective professional networks for the benefit of our students. With these ideas in mind, you too can make an exceptional impact on the next generation of transportation professionals and ITE Members. 

Please join me in supporting our students whether making a contribution to the Student Endowment Fund or volunteering your time. Contributions to the Endowment Fund can be made at https://westernite.org/endowment-fund/endowment-fund-contribute/