Reservation Road Design Challenges UW Student Designers

January 9, 2013
Three students
University of Wyoming students prepare to present their Blue Sky Highway design plans to a panel of professional judges. From left are Brock Fielder, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Tyler Hamilton, Rock Springs; and Tristan Cordier, Cheyenne. (UW Photo)

One by one, the team members faced the judges and explained their plans to redesign a portion of Wyoming Highway 132, the Blue Sky Highway in Fremont County that runs from the junction of U.S. Highway 287 into the town of Ethete.

The two teams of University of Wyoming students had worked on the project throughout the fall semester, and now it was time to demonstrate what they had learned. It was Senior Design Symposium day, a tradition that began in 1995 and has become a significant educational capstone event for students in the UW College of Engineering and Applied Science.

The Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering students worked from an actual Wyoming Department of Transportation project proposal on the road that is expected to handle more than 2,600 vehicles per day by 2021, according to WyDOT estimates. The project includes safety considerations, grading, structure replacement, irrigation, draining and other work, a difficult project made even more challenging because the road is on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Not only did the students have to take into consideration standard design factors such as safety, pavement and guardrail design, horizontal and vertical alignments, rights of way, utilities and earthwork; they also had to incorporate environmental and cultural factors and scientific information, including adherence to provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act and an understanding of the prayer sites and historical practices of both the Shoshone and Arapahoe tribes.

“The students did an amazing, very professional job in answering numerous questions and developing a realistic design for this project," says Adjunct Professor Jim Kladianos, a WyDOT design engineer who teaches the transportation design course with Rhonda Young, an associate professor in the UW Department of Civil and Architectural  Engineering.

“This is a ‘real-world’ project that the students present to a panel of professional transportation engineers, and the final presentation is a significant part of their grade,” adds Kladianos, who invited the judges, including some of his former students now working for WyDOT or private firms, to evaluate the students’ proposals. When he introduced the students to the judges, Kladianos said, “I introduce them as my students today, but will soon welcome them as my peers in this profession.”

The students are keenly aware that the real-world aspect of the project is important as they pursue careers in the design transportation field.  

“These courses and instructors have given me the confidence needed to have an impact in the engineering industry,” say Tristan Cordier of Cheyenne. “In fact, I have applied for a position with a company in Buffalo that wanted a background in two of the programs we used extensively for the Ethete road project.”

Another Cheyenne student, Brandt Pickett, adds, “I probably learned as much from this class as any I have taken. I have a lot still to learn, but the tools I have received here and the education aspects are all very useful and applicable to the profession.  All of my professors have been very professional and are a great wealth of knowledge.  Jim Kladianos has been particularly helpful throughout my last two years of college.”

Jason Fernandez of Cheyenne agrees.

“I’ve been exposed to a large array of topics that may arise throughout my career. My education has taught me to look at the world around me in a different way,” he says. “What I have learned is the tip of the iceberg, and I must continue to learn in order to complete the diverse jobs that lie ahead of me. Thanks to the entire civil engineering department faculty, especially Jim Kladianos and Ronda Young, who inspired a love and enthusiasm for transportation.” 

Students involved in the Blue Sky Highway design project were:

Cheyenne -- Tristan Cordier, Kevin Erickson, Jason Fernandez and Brandt Pickett.

Colorado Springs, Colo. -- Brock Fielder.

Nepal -- Debit Karki.

Rock Springs -- Tyler Hamilton.

Simla, Colo. -- Nathan Landry.

Thermopolis -- Cassie Peterman.

Worland -- Connrado Deniz.

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