The world looks different to Melanie McNair since participating last year in the National Summer Transportation Institute. On strolls through the neighborhood, her eyes pick up on curb heights, pedestrian bridges, flashing stop signs.
“Part of the experience that will stick with me is the importance of street and neighborhood design,” said McNair, a high school sophomore at the Delta Academy in Las Vegas who will attend the summer camp again this year. “There are a lot of details and considerations prior to creating a new street or community area.”
Since 2014, the summer camp has been a collaboration between UNLV’s Multicultural Program for STEM and Health Sciences and the Road Equity Alliance Project. The two-week immersion experience, from July 17-30, provides 14 to 20 high-achieving high schoolers a chance to delve into projects related to transportation, engineering, community planning, and public safety. This year’s camp resumes in person after two years in an online format as a result of the pandemic. Campers stay in campus housing, attend field trips and guest lectures, and complete projects.
Joanna Jezierska, director of the Multicultural Program for STEM and Health Sciences, said the camp is funded through a $50,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration and $5,000 from the Nevada Department of Transportation. She is the principal investigator for the grants.
Erin Breen, director of the Road Equity Alliance Project, brings in local and regional government and corporate partners to teach students about the field. The experts guide students in problem-solving and applying science and math to challenges Southern Nevada faces in transportation and sustaining safe communities, from engineering and law enforcement to emergency medicine and education.
“This camp is hard work,” Breen said. “But we need to hear from these kids now. They are our hope for positive change.”
Partnering with Transportation & Safety Planners
Southern Nevada remains one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas. A key player in helping the community cope with growing pains is the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC), which also is a long-time partner of the National Summer Transportation Institute. The RTC provides transportation planning and funding, public transit, and traffic management for the region. In the past 10 years, the RTC funded 9,000 miles of roadway in the Las Vegas Valley that local cities and Clark County build to improve safety, increase capacity, and decrease congestion.
“These hefty responsibilities require dedicated thinkers and innovators — whether they are engineers, computer scientists, urban planners, public health researchers, or from any other field with STEM-based education backgrounds — to come up with creative solutions to everyday problems,” said David Swallow, deputy CEO of the RTC.
Ideas that past campers have generated already are incorporated into safety features along various corridors downtown and in regional plans for pedestrian bridges and bicycle safety features on city roadways.
“I worked on a project that redesigned and developed Boulder Highway. We raised up the sidewalks and added more stoplights,” said McNair, adding that the experience put UNLV at the top of her list of prospective colleges. She is considering majors in engineering, computing, business, or bioinformatics.
Students this year will contribute to projects the RTC is working on in collaboration with Clark County and the city of Las Vegas, such as improving access between UNLV’s main campus and its health care-focused campus on Shadow Lane. This includes a focus on the new Maryland Parkway bus rapid transit line.
They’ll hear from public safety officials, UMC Trauma Center, professors from the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering and the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV. Field trips include visits to the Freeway Arterial System of Transportation, which analyzes roadway data on traffic flow across the valley in real time, the Las Vegas Convention Center Loop System, the Harry Reid International Airport, the concrete pipe manufacturer Rinker Materials, UNLV’s Black Fire Innovation, and more.
Early Career Development Opportunities
Angie Diaz, a UNLV senior who graduates this fall, works as a camp coordinator and sees herself in many of the youngsters in the program. She participated in a similar UNLV camp in middle school. When she learned about this program through a student organization called UNLV Scientista, Diaz decided she wanted to be part of helping kids discover more about their world.
“It’s really important to get an experience like this before college,” Diaz said. “You get to learn about potential career options early so you have a chance to plan, find out what you like, and how you might make a change in the world.”
Jezierska said that while the intense applied science and math components of the program are important, she tries to give students a well-rounded experience, including life skills training.
For one day, the camp is open to all Las Vegas high school students to learn about driver safety.
Students in the camp also learn about financial aid and personal finances, college admissions, time management, self-care, mental health, yoga, and self-discovery.
“These students work hard. They are smart. We want them to also know how to thrive and become strong, resilient people,” Jezierska said.