Laurence Rilett, distinguished professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Keith W. Klaasmeyer Chair in Engineering and Technology, has been elected to Fellow status by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Rilett, who is also director of both the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Mid-America Transportation Center (MATC) and the Nebraska Transportation Center (NTC), is part of the 2021 class of ASCE Fellows. This group is recognized for having “made celebrated contributions and developed creative solutions that have enhanced lives.” Only 3 percent of ASCE members are chosen to receive this status.
“It’s a nice honor for me, but it also reflects positively on the work we are doing at UNL, MATC and NTC related to education, research and outreach. I would not have received this honor without the many contributions of the students, staff and faculty that I work with on a daily basis” Rilett said.
Known for research in the field of transportation system analysis, Rilett primarily focuses his research on intelligent transportation systems applications and large-scale transportation system modeling. He has been principal or co-principal investigator on more than 40 research projects with total funding of more than $45 million and has authored more than 90 refereed journal papers and more than 90 conference papers based on his research.
Under Rilett’s directorship, MATC was designated as the U.S. Department of Transportation Region VII University Transportation Center in 2006, 2011 and 2016. To date, MATC has been awarded nearly $29 million and an equal amount of matching funds.
But it is the centers’ outreach programs that Rilett finds most gratifying. It includes MATC earning the 2020 Council of University Transportation Centers Award for outreach.
“The most-rewarding thing I do is working with K-12 students, mostly from underrepresented groups, and trying to get them involved in STEM fields in college and, hopefully, get them interested in graduate degrees and graduate work,” Rilett said.
Among the many outreach programs and activities Rilett has led in developing including:
“Roads, Rails, and Race Cars,” an after-school program for middle-school students that in its nine years has served more than 12,500 students. In the past two years, the program has been expanded to schools on the Omaha, Winnebago, and Santee Sioux Reservations.
A week-long STEM summer academy for Native American high school students that has been held yearly since 2017, including virtually this past summer during the pandemic. The academy was developed in conjunction with the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs.
The “MATC Scholars Program,” which provides mentorship to help undergraduate students from underrepresented groups to navigate graduate school recruitment, admissions, and completion processes with success. The program recruits undergraduate students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic-Serving Institutions from around the county. To date over 130 students have participated in this program. In the fall of 2016, the program was expanded to recruit Native Americans from two-year tribal colleges to enroll in STEM degree programs at four-year universities.
While the outreach programs are impactful on a personal level, Rilett said, they also have been primarily beneficial for the students.
“Our goal is to encourage students to go beyond high school and on to a college, tribal college or community college, and then to graduate school. The reality is these days, programs such as these are critical for success,” Rilett said.
“From a time perspective, it’s not the biggest thing we do, but it’s a critical component of the research and educational activities that we do.”