Iowa's National Summer Transportation Institute Promotes STEM Careers for Youth

July 19, 2023

“Is this Heaven?” No, it’s the Iowa National Summer Transportation Institute (INSTI)! The Center for Disabilities and Development, Iowa’s UCEDD, recently hosted the third annual INSTI STEM summer camp. For the first time, INSTI was held residentially this summer. Seventeen middle-school-aged campers from all around the state, girls and boys including seven with disabilities, stayed in a University of Iowa residence hall during the two-week camp session. Campers learned a lot, played a lot, and got some insight into future career opportunities.

They looked at the role engineering plays in transportation from a variety of perspectives, with field trips to two multi-year interstate highway projects. They also visited the UI Flood Center, which is marking the 15-year anniversary of the massive 2008 flooding that damaged roadways and bridges throughout eastern Iowa. A field trip to the Iowa State University College of Engineering included a lab tour, where a variety of creative products were 3-D printed in ISU colors of cardinal and gold. 

Exploring aviation, campers learned about small plane maintenance at the Iowa City airport. They also made a trip to the Eastern Iowa International Airport in Cedar Rapids for a tour of the air traffic control tower, and got a behind the scenes look at what happens to checked bags, courtesy of the TSA. Back in Iowa City, on the helicopter pad high atop University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, they heard about air rescue from AirCare Emergency Transport.

A trip to the UI National Advanced Driving Simulator was both fun and informative for campers, as they got to take a test drive and analyze the results. They also considered how the intersection between wildlife and transportation can result in injured and orphaned animals, when representatives of the WildThunder Wildlife & Animal Rehabilitation & Sanctuary visited INSTI. The representatives included a bird, a badger, and a handful of snakes!

Team building and bridge building were critical components of the camp curriculum. Campers explored the bridges at Kent Park in Oxford, Iowa, and stood on a bridge in the middle of the Mississippi River, as they learned about the development and construction of the Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge, a basket-handle, through-arch twin bridge that now connects Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline, Illinois. Campers benefitted from those team building exercises when each of four teams designed, built, and tested their own bridges, along with one of INSTI’s animal friends. See Squirt the turtle cross the bridge: https://youtu.be/UD9xdrxFQCA

Camp included lots of fun and some treats, including a trip to the Iowa City Pedestrian Mall for frozen yogurt. “Thank you so much for putting together this camp and all the activities we got to do,” one camper wrote in a letter to UCEDD director Derrick Willis and camp director Patti Bahr. “Be sure to let me know if you do it again next year!” She closed her letter with a heart.

Iowa’s UCEDD hosts INSTI in collaboration with the Civil Rights Bureau of the Iowa Department of Transportation, with funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. If you’d like to learn more about INSTI, get in touch with Meredith Field at [email protected].