State and federal agencies are not immune to the economic challenges that have faced this country throughout the past five years. State transportation agencies, local municipalities and other public agencies find themselves with shrinking budgets and reduced staffing at a time when increasingly regulated programs require additional support. In this area of need, Villanova University’s College of Engineering professors Seri Park, PhD, PTP, and Leslie Myers McCarthy, PhD, PE, saw a tremendous opportunity for their students. They describe the resulting win-win scenario in “Innovative Partnerships Help Inventory Traffic Signs,” the cover story in the March-April 2013 issue of Public Roads magazine. Co-authored by Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) engineers John McFadden, PhD, PE, PTOE, ’91 ECE, ’94 MSCE and George Merritt, the seven-page article explores how Villanova civil engineering students gained real-world experience by working on transportation projects in conjunction with local public agencies and Professors Park and McCarthy.
Before she came to the College of Engineering, Dr. McCarthy worked as an engineering team leader at the FHWA in Florida. There, she saw firsthand the challenges that local municipalities face in developing and completing projects with too few financial and staffing resources. As an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University, Dr. McCarthy recognized that local municipalities could provide applied learning opportunities for students. “Real-world engineering service projects were right outside our doorstep,” she says.
Dr. McCarthy first established these partnerships and began advising student participants in 2009. In 2011, department colleague Dr. Park, a Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor, joined her. In this program, students interested in transportation engineering conduct several projects, which culminate in a final report delivered to the local agencies and a poster presentation at Civil and Environmental Engineering Day on campus. Their work has included studies regarding traffic impacts, signal coordination, streetscape design, transportation policy and infrastructure asset management. One project in particular, the subject of the Public Roads article, focused on a methodology to develop traffic sign inventories that would be tailored for local agencies.
Experiential learning is one of the cornerstones of Villanova’s top-ranked engineering program. Beginning in their first year, students are required to participate in multidisciplinary, hands-on projects. As they progress through the program, undergraduates have the opportunity to work alongside faculty on cutting-edge research in their areas of expertise. Through the College’s Multidisciplinary Design Lab, industry, government and other organizations are invited to partner with students on real-world projects. Service work, like these transportation projects, also provides practical experience, along with an opportunity to give back to the community, one of the fundamentals of the University’s Catholic Augustinian tradition.