INTERNSHIP MOVES STUDENTS TO BETTER GRASP STATE TRANSPORTATION PLANNING AND MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES
Two CUPPA Graduate Students Share Thoughts on IDOT Internship Supervised by the UTC
CHICAGO (September 2015) — Incorporating edits to the Illinois long-range transportation plan and completing a performance and asset management analysis to ensure best practices meet federal guidelines are all in a day’s work for two UIC graduate students participating in an Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) internship program managed by the Urban Transportation Center (UTC).
Since the start of the spring 2015 semester, Lynn Schneider and Sarah Taylor have assisted IDOT planners and analysts in developing the state Long Range Transportation plan that will guide future transportation projects, practices and policies in Illinois.
The internship program is part of an innovative agreement between IDOT, the UTC and the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs (CUPPA Department of Urban Planning and Policy to train graduate students in areas that are critical to IDOT’s future workforce requirements, and have CUPPA students and faculty undertake research projects addressing critical IDOT needs. Schneider and Taylor are part of a team of CUPPA interns at IDOT tasked with a wide range of short and long-term project assignments in the Office of Planning and Programming that involve data analysis, quality and compliance reviews, and revisions of draft sections of the Long Range Transportation plan.
Both Schneider and Taylor said the IDOT internship has provided valuable experience in transportation management and planning that will provide a better understanding of the industry and may even help determine their post-graduate career directions. These internships provide real work experience and a greater understanding of federal and state agencies and their regulatory requirements.
“Working at IDOT is helping me become more familiar with the kind of legislation that’s important to the transportation industry,” said Schneider, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy. “This is especially important in terms of long-range planning and how to better engage the stakeholders at IDOT.”
For Taylor, who’s working toward a master’s degree in Public Administration, the internship has sparked interest in gaining more insight into the complexities of the industry. “I’ve been able to better grasp many of the key issues related to transportation, and I focus more on transportation, for example when I’m reading news articles,” she said. “Transportation now is high on the list of things I want to do.”
UTC Executive Director Steve Schlickman originally developed the internship and research program with IDOT as a way to better engage CUPPA and IDOT.
Robert Ginsburg, UTC research assistant professor, currently manages the program, which operates under an annual contract with IDOT. The current agreement runs through 2016 and the number of interns and the scope of research is renegotiated annually to better meet the needs of IDOT.
Preliminary discussions with IDOT for the 2017 contract have begun and include a desire to increase IDOT participation in CUPPA courses as both resources and as part of a continuing education program. Schneider and Taylor have participated in the program since February, and in August, CUPPA graduate student Anthony Jones began working at IDOT offices. A fourth intern is being recruited.
The IDOT internships provide important training for CUPPA students that supplements their coursework and provides experience in applying what they learn. However, IDOT recognizes that academic requirements generally take precedence. Schneider and Taylor noted that their IDOT supervisors allow flexibility in their work schedules for time needed to complete class assignments or study for mid-term or final examinations.
“They’re very understanding that we are students,” Taylor said.