Each semester, the University Scholars enroll in small-group, discussion-based seminars. Brooke Versaw ’18, a chemistry major and Beckman Scholar, participated in the Transportation seminar this spring. Here, she recounts the class’s topics and guest speakers.
By Brooke Versaw
Put simply, transportation takes us places – down the block, across the country, and (for a select few) into space. With over 4,000,000 miles of public and privately held roadways in the United States, the prominence and influence of transportation can hardly be overstated. Consequently, 5 University Scholars spent the Spring 2016 semester exploring the subject of transportation at length.
Early in the semester, Dr. Brian Rouleau discussed the First Transcontinental Railroad and the expansion of the American West, and Dr. Shelley Wachsmann, professor of Biblical Archaeology and expert in nautical archaeology, shared his research on the Sea of Galilee boat, a small fishing vessel from the 1st century A.D. recovered on the Israeli coast in the late 1980s. His recollections on the painstaking twelve-day process of recovering and restoring the boat and insights on the expert craftsmanship and attention to design featured in the boat’s construction quickly made clear that transportation, particularly in seafaring communities, can serve as a cultural institution on par with music and art.
We later met with archival librarians Greg Bailey and Bill Page at Cushing Library to discuss the significance of transportation in a far more personal context – the development of Texas A&M University. The history of transportation in Aggieland begins in 1876 with a single dirt road connecting a small cluster of buildings to the town of Bryan and continues today with a bustling campus that grows increasingly connected with each semester. The events that transpired in between are as much a history of this university as a history of the state of Texas on the whole. Between the opening of the Agricultural & Mechanical College of Texas and the present day, our campus witnessed the arrival of passenger and freight rail lines and the introduction of a small trolley route that bore an early resemblance to the on-campus bus system we recognize today.
The Transportation seminar further explored developments in transportation on campus through visits from Mike McInturff ’73, a professional engineer currently employed in pedestrian safety and efficiency improvements to University Drive, and Melisa Finley, a Texas A&M Transportation Institute engineer researching countermeasures for wrong-way drivers. We also enjoyed a visit from Madeline Dillard, assistant director for Transportation Services. She spoke with us about the impressive logistics of managing the university’s 90-member fleet of Aggie Spirit buses and shared details of the extensive planning required to accommodate football games, career fairs, and Ring Days – all evidence of the quiet dedication required from Texas A&M staff to keep a university of our size and scope running for the students it serves.
Finally, we examined possibilities in transportation for the future. We began with a lively discussion of Google’s advances towards commercialization of the driverless car. The economic ramifications of a car that removes the hassle (and joy) of driving and the ethical consequences of a car making its own decisions for pedestrian and rider safety were well worth considering. We then spoke with Dr. John Junkins about the politics of space debris and joined Dr. Nick Suntzeff for a discussion of space and time travel. From the information Dr. Suntzeff conveyed about recent developments in the scientific community’s understanding of physics and astronomy, interstellar travel is possible in theory – and might be closer to reality than previously expected.
Freshmen are recruited each spring to join the University Scholars program. To learn more, please see: http://honors.tamu.edu/Honors/University-Scholars