CORVALLIS, Ore. - An initiative begun 10 years ago by the Oregon Department of Transportation to involve Oregon State University students in innovative software development has grown over the years to include nearly 50 projects, some of which are helping to reduce accidents and save lives.
The initial project involved creating a software system to dispatch road crews from their four centers around the state.
"By automating processes with the dispatch software, we have improved the response to calls by five minutes," said Lynn Cartwright, project delivery manager for Intelligent Transportation Systems at ODOT. "The work the students have done is saving lives."
Giving students practical and impactful experiences was one of the reasons ODOT chose Oregon State for their projects. Cartwright said she also hopes it will better expose students to the many job opportunities in state government. In her department, more than 50 percent of employees are eligible to retire in five years.
Other projects that have improved highway safety include RealTime signs that give information on travel time on Oregon Highway 217, and signs at Multnomah Falls that warn visitors if the parking lot is full.
Phillip Carter, a computer science student, said a favorite project was one that retrieved information about a crash site to help ODOT dispatchers. The software can, for example, determine if the site is on a county or state road, which changes who is notified of the crash. A simple click on a map displays information from multiple data sources.
Carter, a graduate this year, said this work allowed him to stay on campus and continue to take classes rather than move elsewhere for an internship which would have delayed his graduation date. He said the specific knowledge he gained with products such as Visual Studio helped him land his job with Microsoft, which he will start this summer.
Mark Clements has watched the partnership with ODOT grow and develop over the years in his position as a manager with the Software Development Group in the Center for Applied Software and Systems at Oregon State, formerly known as the Business Solutions Group.
"It's been valuable for both sides," Clements said. "On our side it's a great source of real-world learning opportunities for the students. And ODOT has benefited from the creativity that the students provide by having an outside perspective."