This spring, graduate student researchers from the Illinois Center for Transportation (ICT) joined 250+ other student groups at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in providing a fun, engaging, and educational Engineering Open House (EOH) for thousands of younger students and families. ICT partnered with the newly formed Transportation and Development Institute Graduate Student Organization (T&DI-GSO) at the U of I for this event.
EOH has been a regular event at the university for over 85 years, drawing more than 20,000 visitors annually. This year, on March 14 and 15, graduate students from ICT hosted an exhibit to share their enthusiasm about transportation. On one side of the exhibit, students demonstrated how pavements are designed and constructed. Visitors were able to handle different types of pavement materials (i.e., aggregates, recycled asphalt pavement, recycled pavement shingles, cooled asphalt binder) as well as various test specimens. On the other side of the exhibit, visitors were directed to an activity that allowed them to make (and eat) their own edible material. Using crushed graham crackers, various types of cereals, and chocolate pieces, visitors were able to construct their own pavement subgrade and base layers. A surface layer was then added using either bananas to represent concrete slabs or raisins to represent asphalt. Needless to say, the edible activity was a hit with younger audiences.
EOH also provided a chance for graduate students in the T&DI-GSO to share their engineering interests to a wider audience. John Kulikowski, a master’s student studying airport pavements, helped out at EOH for the first time and had a great experience: “EOH was a phenomenal opportunity to mentor future generations of engineers. I have been fortunate with great leaders and mentors in my career and love to pay it forward. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my passion for pavements and construction with people of all ages. The tasty cereal pavements were a bonus, too!”
Heena Dhasmana, a Ph.D. candidate who is studying asphalt pavements, has volunteered at EOH for three years and still enjoys the visitor interaction: “From 5- to 50-year-olds, everyone had questions about pavements on different levels, with some completely unaware of ‘what that black stuff on the road is.’ Realizing that I could answer their questions proved to be a major satisfaction as a pavement engineer.”