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The Benefit of Collaboration Between Governments and Academic Institutions



1. Oregon State University’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science partnered with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) on more than 50 software development projects.

2. Students offered fresh perspectives and new problem-solving strategies.

3. The collaboration presented benefi ts to both OSU’s students and the Oregon DOT.


Partnerships between academic institutions and government agencies can provide substantive benefits for their communities. From increased efficiency to workforce development, examples of successful partnerships can guide and encourage future relationships. One such example is the partnership between the Center for Applied Systems and Software (CASS) and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). CASS is a non-profit organization under the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at Oregon State University (OSU). CASS is broadly focused on all software development and engineering, and is divided into three primary segments:

1. Open Source Lab – A support and host group to the Open Source community through servers and virtual machines.

2. Software Development Group – A collaboration of professional software engineers and student employees working to develop and deliver a wide range of software applications for professional clients.

3. Test & IoT (Internet of Things) Lab – A group that provides testing services for both hardware and software. This group also provides technological support for elements of the rapidly evolving Internet of Things (IoT).


ODOT’s mission is to “provide a safe and reliable multimodal transportation system that connects people and helps Oregon’s communities and economy thrive.” Part of the strategy to accomplish this involves incorporating advanced technology and software to improve asset management and communications. Effective application of these strategies can provide increased efficiency and safety to the travelling public in Oregon. This case study highlights the fruitful partnership between these two organizations that supports the safety of the public in Oregon and supports the development of software and students at CASS.


ODOT first approached CASS about a partnership in 2005, while CASS was still in its infancy. Since then, this partnership has resulted in the completion of more than 50 projects. These projects have ranged from small, short-term efforts to years-long endeavors resulting in a single deliverable. For these projects, ODOT has contracted with CASS for various software development needs. OSU students comprise an important element of this collaboration. While CASS has professional programming employees, the bulk of its workforce is comprised of student workers. These students provide fresh perspectives and solutions beneficial to both CASS and ODOT. Another benefit of this collaboration is that it allows those involved, including the students, to work on real-world local projects that benefit communities where they live. This state-level collaboration takes advantage of the resources and intellectual capital that already exists within agencies and academic institutions in Oregon.


To better comprehend the characteristics of the collaboration between CASS and ODOT, it is helpful to explore examples of specific projects and their applications. The first example is the software elements of the Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) program. Most components of ODOT’s TSMO program were developed by CASS students. This project was conducted over several years by working on one small module at a time resulting in a custom functional system for ODOT. TSMO is a broad initiative by ODOT that covers various elements of asset and traffic management around Oregon. These elements include Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), congestion management, and incident management. CASS students participated in the development of these TSMO applications. The long-term “on-call” partnership highlights the value of geographic proximity in efforts such as this. While technology has allowed for long distance communication, and remote programming and software development, the convenience of the collaborating partners being in the same region (in this case, within Oregon) allows for more effective troubleshooting and implementation of software within the necessary hardware constraints.

A second example involves ODOT’s electronic safety and incident response system. This project was recently completed in collaboration with ODOT, CASS, and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) involving the development of the ODOT Response Plan System (RPS). This plan incorporated developing software and algorithms to promote effective variable message sign (VMS) messages in response to incidents based on the location and type of incident. A noteworthy element of this project is the collaboration beyond just ODOT and CASS. The Southwest Research Institute, located in San Antonio, Texas, is a nonprofit, multidisciplinary research and development organization. It is not uncommon for ODOT to partner with CASS and other organizations on the same project to broaden available expertise and introduce the students at CASS to more partners.


As with many partnerships, there are benefits to both groups. In the case of the 15-year partnership between ODOT and CASS, there have been continually growing benefits. ODOT benefits in many ways by contracting CASS for some of its software development needs. ODOT has a limited internal programming staff, so access to students and professionals through CASS expands the expertise immediately available for ODOT’s software development. In addition, ODOT also gains access to potential employees through its access to students. The students who work with CASS on ODOT projects are already familiar with ODOT specs and software platforms. When these students have the opportunity to move from CASS during the school year to an internship with ODOT over the summer, they can be more productive during this internship period. This is beneficial to ODOT as well as the students who can gain more in-depth experience in a shorter time. In addition, ODOT is better positioned to compete for these students for full-time programming positions as well.

The CASS organization also finds value in this relationship. Through ODOT supported projects, CASS is able to secure funding to help support their mission and staff. This funding provides paid work opportunities for students seeking real-world experience in software development and computer science. By having interesting real-world projects, CASS can attract better student employees, and provide those student more rewarding opportunities for internships and fulltime positions. In addition, through high-profile partnerships like those with ODOT, CASS can raise its profile and advertise its services to other clients.

As this partnership continues, the residents of Oregon will continue to be beneficiaries through improved safety and efficiency of the transportation network in the state. All of these benefits will continue as ODOT and CASS leverage each other’s strengths on future projects.

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