CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (March. 12, 2019) - The Virginia Department of Transportation’s motto, “We keep Virginia moving,” is never far from Jeff Tipton’s mind.

That’s the imperative behind the Essentials of Engineering Excellence Program, VDOT’s latest employee training and education partnership with the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Virginia. The center, located at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, runs the Federal Highway Administration-designated Local Technical Assistance Program for the state. As the VA LTAP administrator, the center acts as part of VDOT’s professional development arm, annually serving more than 2,000 transportation workers statewide with training for every phase of road and highway building, maintenance and administration.

“Our mission is to move people in the safest, most efficient way possible. To do that, we need well-trained, competent professionals,” said Tipton, a senior training consultant with VDOT’s workforce development office.

Nicknamed “E3,” Essentials of Engineering Excellence is tailored for the employees who design, construct and maintain the state’s roadways and bridges. The curriculum allows engineers to advance their personal career goals while meeting their current training needs for VDOT. Crucially, employees can opt to use E3 as a pathway to a master’s degree in engineering from the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment, UVA’s home for civil, systems and environmental engineering.

E3 participants who declare that they intend to pursue the master’s will matriculate into one of ESE’s Master of Engineering degree programs for working professionals upon successful completion. They also will earn six graduate credit hours that satisfy two courses toward the degree, as well as a program certificate and two continuing education units for each course taken. The curriculum consists of 16 four-week online courses. Students must complete 12 — six core and six elective — subjects. Leadership in each of VDOT’s nine districts and the central office will select the participants, who must hold a bachelor’s degree. VDOT is allocating 30 seats per class and estimates as many as 480 employees will ultimately participate in E3.

“E3 provides a bridge between continuing education and our department’s graduate programs in a way that embraces the concept of lifelong learning. After all, this is what the Center for Transportation Studies is all about,” said Beth O’Donnell, director of the Virginia Local Technical Assistance Program.

The training model is based on one that the center uses for the Virginia LTAP and the Tribal Technical Assistance Program, a similar federal program serving Native American communities throughout the country, said O’Donnell, who directs both programs. E3 instructors come from the field with extensive on-the-job experience and from academia, including UVA Engineering faculty. Lindsay Ivey Burden, a faculty member in Engineering Systems and Environment, will take the lead on day-to-day operations of E3, serving as the center’s first point of contact for instructors and students. She is also teaching a course, Geotechnical Engineering.

“The effort to design, build and deploy E3 required new collaboration between the Engineering Systems and Environment Department and the Center for Transportation Studies. A dynamic and valuable relationship has developed as a result, and I couldn’t be more excited about representing the program alongside Lindsay,” O’Donnell said.

Many instructors have VDOT ties and some are battle-tested veterans, such as former commissioner Philip Shucet. Known as a public-sector fixer, he is teaching a required course, Project and General Communications. Yet even with his experience, Shucet is working with communications director Shannon Marshall and assistant state location and design engineer Jeff Cutright to develop the content. Pairing a VDOT subject matter expert with each instructor was one of Tipton’s requirements when he sought bidders to administer E3.

“It’s a training program with an academic benefit, but it’s about enhancing core technical skills first. We wanted it to be a collaboration. UVA faculty provide the theoretical principles and VDOT brings the real-world, real-time perspectives to the course that correlate to the job,” Tipton said, noting that E3 affects every corner of the state. “It was clear that the Center for Transportation Studies has the necessary infrastructure to build and sustain an effort of this size. I’m proud of what my team and Beth’s team have developed to date, making this into a program that’s being sought after within our agency.”

Getting better on the job was enough incentive for Deepak Koirala, a Highway Safety Project Delivery team leader in the Traffic Engineering Division, who is enrolled in the E3 course on estimating. He already has master’s degrees in engineering and business. “This course is personally for me to learn. It’s very relevant to what I do,” he said.

Thanks to the broad course offerings that let employees gain expertise in new areas while meeting continuing education licensing requirements, he plans to complete the curriculum.

Tracy Turpin, who manages project delivery of the Highway Safety Improvement Program in the Traffic Engineering Division, does plan to pursue his master’s through E3 — as soon as a slot opens up. The degree is the cherry on top of the opportunity for professional development, he said. As a manager, though, it’s E3’s design that has him smiling.

“I’m pleased with the way the courses are aligned. It’s the right balance between the academic and VDOT’s technical needs,” he said.

“Our engineers are also eager to stay challenged, and this will keep them fresh in our profession and up to date with the latest technology,” Turpin added.

Tipton believes investing in people this way ultimately serves Virginia taxpayers, leading to improved infrastructure design and execution. “Participants can earn graduate credit and admission to arguably one of the best civil engineering master’s degree programs in the country,” he said. “We designed E3 to give them the ability to move their careers in the direction they want. We’re hoping talented undergraduate students will see VDOT and public service as a viable option. It’s both a retention and recruitment tool.”