Tag Archives: education

UDOT U: Opportunities to Learn

Over the last three years, I’ve quite often been asked, what is UDOT U and what can it do for employees?

The simplest answer to the first part of this question is UDOT University is UDOT’s learning organization; in other words, it is a fancy name for the training the department delivers. To answer the second part of the question, what can [UDOT U] do for employees, I’ll list what UDOT U does, and then employees can decide if there is anything that might be of value to them.

UDOT U does the following things: (1) provide UDOT employees and stakeholders with opportunities for learning and development, (2) facilitate partnerships with other learning organizations, (3) provide tools and infrastructure to track training hours and training effectiveness, and (4) assist subject-matter areas find ways to fund needed training.

Photo of conference room and attendees.

Kendrall Draney and Bryan Allen at a UDOT Annual Conference breakout session on project management.

Providing learning opportunities

UDOT-hosted NHI courses, breakout sessions at the UDOT Annual Conference, and webinars using Adobe Connect are all examples of learning opportunities UDOT U has provided to 13,000 attendees over the last couple of years. We’re in the process of adding to our course catalog, powered by Adobe Connect; go here to browse the 100+ offerings: www.connect.udot.utah.gov. We’re adding more every day. We contract with groups and work with vendors to keep marginal costs down for our business units.

Developing employees

As a learning organization UDOT U attempts to provide development opportunities for employees. Funds, obviously, are not unlimited so we look for ways to get the biggest bang for our buck. Purchasing licenses for Lynda.com; bringing in external subject matter experts through NHI, AASHTO, and local universities; and refocusing the breakout sessions at the UDOT Annual Conference to center on training has provided employees easy access to learning opportunities. The tuition assistance program, although more strictly a benefit than a training program, has allowed many UDOT employees to seek accredited degrees from local colleges and universities.

Photo of three students watching as an eye dropper is used with a test tube.

UDOT Chemist Sara Carlock demonstrates pH testing, which is used in the transportation industry to assure materials meet specifications.

Fostering learning and sharing

UDOT U has assisted the department initiate TRAC and RIDES programs, AASHTO-sponsored STEM initiatives for primary and secondary schools. Through this program UDOT provides needed materials and expertise to schools. Teachers use the materials to present engineering- and transportation- related lessons to future engineers and technicians.

UDOT U is also in the beginning stages of partnering with the research division to develop ways to capture, organize, and manage employees’ considerable knowledge and experience. We are looking for ways to make institutional memory shareable. We’re at the very beginning of the project; your ideas for how this might best be accomplished are welcome.

Developing infrastructure

UDOT U has developed a central website that acts as a portal leading employees to the learning opportunities offered in the department. Our course catalog, webinar software, and other tools are available for use by all UDOT employees and in most cases outside contractors and consultants.

Providing funding for training

The training budget has steadily increased over the years as our internal groups and subject matter experts have made good use of the funds. This last fiscal year (FY 2014), the budget was double the previous year. This commitment to funding demonstrates senior leaders’ commitment to learning, innovation, and developing employees.

Hopefully, it’s clear that UDOT U is here to serve employees’ and our partners’ learning needs. If there are ways we can help, please do not hesitate to contact us.

This guest post was written by Richard Murdock, UDOT U Administrative Vice President, and was orginally published in the UDOT U Summer 2014 newsletter.

UDOT’s STEM Education Initiative

In an effort to promote greater support for Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) education, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has adopted a STEM Education Initiative to encourage more Utah students to consider careers in these fields.

STEM education generally supports the broadening of the study of engineering within each of the other subjects, and beginning engineering at younger grades, even elementary school. It also brings STEM education to all students rather than only those in so-called “gifted” programs. In recent years, education leaders in Utah and throughout the West have become concerned over the lack of growth in the STEM education fields. As an end-user of STEM graduates from the state’s universities and colleges and Governor Herbert’s emphasis on education as one of his “cornerstones,” UDOT is looking for ways to promote and encourage more people to consider this education path.

What are the STEM disciplines? They consist of natural science fields such as Astrophysics, Atmospheric Sciences, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Nuclear Physics, and Physics. The Computer industry is represented with fields such as Computational Science, Computer Engineering, Computer Science and Software Engineering. Traditional Engineering fields are represented by Aerospace Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Nuclear Engineering. There are potential careers in the technology sector, such as Biomechanics, Mathematical Biology, Nanotechnology, Neurobiology, Operations Research, Optics Mathematics, and Robotics. And Scientific Education is represented by opportunities in Applied Mathematics, Geographic Information Systems, Information Science, Instructional Technology, Psychology, and Statistics.

Employment projected through 2018 shows the computing industry (71%) making up the largest sector of STEM-related careers, with traditional engineering fields (16%) comprising the second largest career group. Mathematics-related careers (2%) are presently the smallest STEM sector.

Pie Charts showing Percentage of New STEM Jobs by Area Through 2018

UDOT presently has several efforts underway that are associated with its STEM Education Initiative. For example:

  • UDOT Engineers Dave Schwartz and Lisa Wilson have teamed up to participate in an afterschool program at Bennion Elementary in Taylorsville, Salt Lake County. They are teaching STEM based topics twice a week to 10-12 students with over 50 interested in becoming part of the program. Their lesson plans come from The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Roadways into Developing Elementary Students (RIDES) education outreach curriculum support program. UDOT also provides the materials to support this local after-school program, in conjunction with funding from the private sector.
  • The Weber School District has five teams participating in AASHTO’s National Bridge and Structure building competition. Part of AASHTO’s Transportation and Civil Engineering Program (TRAC), the student teams design and build balsa wood bridges based on the competition guidelines. The students prepare portfolios detailing their team’s efforts to design the bridges and build them. The portfolios are judged by a team of national experts. The top teams from across the country are selected to travel to the AASHTO Spring Conference (2014’s is in Louisville, Kentucky). Visit mmsd.transportation.org/trac_rides/awards.aspx for more information about this competition. UDOT sends our best wishes in this competition to our Utah bridge builders.
  • UDOT is partnering with the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) to facilitate a one day workshop on May 22, 2014 at the Region 2 Headquarters. The workshop will focus on helping grade school age girls on becoming excited about a career in Transportation related STEM fields.
  • UDOT employees are also participating in Career fairs throughout the state, encouraging all students to pursue careers in STEM related professions. UDOT engineers and staff are also spending time in classrooms to help students understand the excitement and satisfaction which comes from serving our community in STEM related fields of expertise.
  • STEM students from local high schools and higher-ed institutions have been participating in internships with various UDOT departments and regions. These internships give students opportunities to apply what they’ve learned, and demonstrate their potential in the various STEM career fields.

UDOT is looking to expand its experiences in STEM education and hopes you will consider how you can be a part of this initiative. Look for future blog entries about the experiences your colleagues are having, and how you might become involved in this important effort.

Employee Educational Assistance

A benefit that UDOT offers employees is educational assistance. Employees are such a valuable asset to the department that we’ve had a policy in place since 1968 to help individuals better themselves through education. This in turn benefits the department since we are improving our workforce.

Employees can get 100 percent reimbursement on courses that are directly related to their job and courses that aren’t directly related may be eligible for 75 percent if they’re a benefit to UDOT. Funding for these reimbursements comes from an grant through FHWA.

We do have a few requirements to make sure this assistance is used appropriately.

  • It is only available to permanent employees and some interns with benefits.
  • Courses must be taught at an accredited institution for college credit; certification only programs with no college credit are not eligible.
  • Employees must complete the course with at least a “C”.
  • The reimbursement is only for tuition and mandatory fees not parking, books, etc.
  • There’s some upfront paperwork that has to be completed which includes a contract and disclosure of any other funding assistance that is being received.
  • Once a course is finished employees need to submit their receipt and report card within 30 days.
  • Courses and homework have to be completed on an employee’s own time.
  • And, if the employee leaves UDOT within 12 months of receiving assistance they will have to pay us back.

Employees should also keep in mind that if they’re interested they need to work with their supervisor and the educational assistance administrator before starting any course or program.

UDOT Comptroller Becky Bradshaw used the assistance program and was able to advance to the position she holds today thanks to the education she received. She explained that employees often think of their salary as the only benefit of working but that UDOT also tries to provide other advantages to our employees and this is a perfect example.

This may seem like a strange time to be talking about school since fall is usually when we’re thinking about it. But, this is graduation season and for most of us there’s no greater motivation than the prize at the end. Recent graduate Donna McNew understands this and sent thanks along to her supervisors and senior leaders for the educational assistance program. In her thank you she said, “This is a wonderful benefit for UDOT employees, not many individuals can say they graduated with a master’s degree and no debt.”

How many employees do you think are like Becky and Donna and jump at the chance to use this benefit? Not very many. For our current fiscal year there are around 25 employees using the assistance and we have over 1,600 employees total. Going back to school is daunting and we hope that by spreading the word about this great opportunity we can lessen some of the burden for those that feel it is right for them.

If you’re not employed by UDOT does your employer offer any great benefits like this one? Do they offer any benefits that seem to good to be true? For UDOT employees, did you know about this benefit or know anyone who has taken advantage it? Let us know in the comments!