NCDOT official favors ECSU student research report

Kesha Williams
September 20, 2008

An official with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) rated an ECSU student research presentation as the "most comprehensive" of any presentation made by nine participants in the Historically Black Colleges & University & Minority Serving Institutes program. Everett Ward, director of the Historically Black Colleges & University & Minority Serving Institutes program, said the Elizabeth City State University presentation was an impressive combination of aviation science and computer science concepts. The presentations were rated based on content, research, delivery and knowledge of the subject. A six-person panel from the NCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration evaluated the group presenters. Before making their presentation to the panel, the students spent their summer in ECSU's Technology Department learning to fly unmanned aerial vehicles. Seventeen high school students and three college interns learned to fly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Three students made the trip to Raleigh to present their research findings. Ward said the ECSU program is producing students who are capable of making careers in the transportation industry. "Without a doubt the students from ECSU presented the most comprehensive research report this summer. These presentations are important because the purpose of the program is to recruit the best and brightest students," Ward said. "We are looking for young scholars who have an interest in transportation-that new generation of transportation leaders. We want students to know there are opportunities in transportation and in research. We can't place a value on what we gain from the program." Dr. Ellis Lawrence is the director of the Summer Transportation Institute at ECSU and a professor in the Technology Department. For nine years, he's directed the program that brought high school students to ECSU for a challenging summer research program. The program, supported by grants from the Federal Highway Administration and the NCDOT, promotes careers in the transportation industry. Many of those careers call for strong skills in math, science and technology. Area youths apply for the program and are selected based on grades and their interest in science and technology. The Summer Transportation Institute rewards students for excelling in summer research projects, field experiments, class projects. Lawrence credits the Federal Highway Administration and the NCDOT for funding a top notch program that excites students. The agencies provided $14,000 for four internship positions; $56,400 to fund the transportation institute and $3,700 for unmanned aerial vehicles (helicopters). Without the funding, Lawrence said the students could not have learned so much about the transportation industry. "The number of jobs in the transportation industry, aviation industry and in technology is growing. Those opportunities are available in North Carolina but we have to make sure our students are aware of them," Lawrence said. "Once students complete this program, they are more aware of how far classes in math, science and technology will take them. This program proved to be more difficult than they expected but the challenge was good for them and they enjoyed it." For the last three years, the program centered on aviation careers. That program was a boost for students who progressed through ECSU classes in technology and aviation. Aviation Science is now a signature program at ECSU that guides students to assorted careers in the industry where graduates excel. With this year's program, the focus centered on the transportation industry. Lawrence said students were surprised by what they could do in a four-week summer program. "When high school students complete a summer program like this one, they see how math and science can be applied to something that serves a common purpose. The goal here was to use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to survey land," Lawrence said. "The students learned to fly remote controlled helicopters via simulation and instructor training. In the UAV training, the students mastered the electronics needed to design a sonar system to measure distance." The summer unmanned flight research would not have been complete without field trips to show students progress pioneers made and the challenges and rewards professions make each day. The Wright Brothers Memorial in Dare County provided a historical lesson that Lawrence said North Carolina students should be well aware of. Professionals at the Coast Guard Aircraft and Supply Center in Elizabeth City highlighted career options in aviation for the youths. The students also visited NASA Langley Research Center and the NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT) materials testing laboratory in Williamston, NC. In previous years the program took students further away for some important lessons. In 2006, the students visited Tuskegee Institute where they reviewed the history of the Tuskegee Airmen. In 2007 the 23 students, five college students and 18 high school students, trained to become private pilots. Fifteen took the Federal Aviation Administration Ground School exam for private pilots and nine passed. These were the first students to become certified by the FAA at ECSU. "These are the types of opportunities students find at the Summer Transportation Institute program at ECSU. There is no substitute for students facing and exceeding tough challenges over the summer. They return to fall classes, better informed of the reason science and technology classes are so relevant to their future. In a society as competitive as ours, now a global society, students don't have a minute to waste," Lawrence said. During the 2008 institute Dr. Kuldeep Rawat, an associate professor in the ECSU Technology Department, served as the co-project director. He introduced students to electronic control, programming, and autonomous piloting of the UAVs. High school students were trained to design and build avionics circuitry that can be integrated into UAVs. He and Dr. Lawrence accompanied three college interns to the NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to present their research findings. The students worked over the summer to complete a oral presentation for an audience of NCDOT officials and research interns from nine of the state's Historically Black Colleges and Universities.