Please describe your current research.
My research interests include transportation economics, crash safety modeling, life cycle analysis of different land uses for sustainable planning, and plug-in electric hybrid vehicle (PHEV) infrastructure planning. I am currently working on a research project for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to develop a comprehensive and concise reference on transportation economics for TxDOT staff. The reference addresses key topics such as cost estimation, economic impact analysis, travel-time savings and related productivity impacts, transportation externalities assessment, project evaluation, taxation and pricing policies to provide the foundation for a solid understanding of transportation economic theory and application.
On the crash analysis front, I used national data sets to examine the impact of vehicle footprint on crash injury severities (to potentially anticipate safety impacts of the new CAFE standards) and examined the impact of personal characteristics on crash histories. As I start my third year in the program, I am shifting my focus slightly to sustainable transportation initiatives. I am currently working on a parking optimization model that assigns charging station locations which minimize access costs for PHEV vehicles.
For upcoming research, I am interested in examining the potential for using cell phone/smart phone data to substitute and supplement traditional travel survey trip data for transportation planning and modeling and anticipating the long term impacts of land use and transportation policies on greenhouse emissions and energy use.
Where did you get your other degrees?
I received my B.S. in Civil Engineering from Texas A&M University and M.S. in Civil Engineering from University of Texas at Arlington. I guess you could say I’m completing a tour of public Texas universities.
What brought you to our department?
Choosing UT Austin was an easy choice since the Transportation Engineering program is one of the top-ranked in the country and known for prolific research. I also visited the campus and met with my advisor, Professor Kara Kockelman, before making the decision to move to Austin and that certainly reinforced this was the right program for me in terms of research interests and student body.
What is your background?
I was born in Shanghai, China, and immigrated to the U.S. as a young child because my mom pursued her Ph.D. at Texas Christian University. You could say academia is in my blood as my grandfather and my mother are both professors. I’ve lived most of my life in Texas (Dallas, Fort Worth, College Station, and now Austin), with a four year stint in Arkansas during high school. I initially became interested in civil engineering via architecture and my initial plan was to become the next great bridge designer. However, once in college, I realized that the transportation system with its human factor influences and complex policy issues was far more intriguing to me.
Before returning to school for my Ph.D., I worked for 4.5 years in the consulting industry in transportation planning and highway design As a transportation planning engineer, I performed geometric design, cost estimation,and operational analyses for new route studies and preliminary design schematics. During that time, I attended UT Arlington part-time for my master’s degree in transportation engineering, which sparked my interest in a career change toward research.
What do you like about the CAEE Department?
My favorite aspect of the department is its diversity. Graduate students in the program come from all corners of the world and have varied academic backgrounds. I have been in civil engineering departments my entire academic career, and the exposure to other students from computer science, math, and other backgrounds makes me approach research problems with a different perspective. Having students with various cultural and social backgrounds also lends to diversity in one’s social life. I particularly enjoy the international potlucks sponsored by our student organizations. While the department has its fair share of students going directly from undergraduate to graduate school, there are also a significant number of graduate students with professional working experience like myself.
What do you like about Austin?
Being a married student, the fact that Austin is much more than a college town and offers career options for my husband (also an engineer) was very important to me. Since moving here, I have fallen in love with the laid-back atmosphere of this city that makes it feel approachable, like an easygoing large town rather than a hectic big city. Austinites really take pride in everything homegrown with the adamant “shop local” sentiment, and we have really enjoyed participating in something that feels local and unique.
What do you do for fun?
As a hobby restaurant critic and food writer in my previous life as a working professional, I have definitely taken advantage of Austin’s diverse and unique dining scene. For a city its size, Austin offers easy access to quality ingredients through its many farmers’ markets and diverse grocery stores. When I’m not in the kitchen, I love exploring Austin’s always changing restaurant scene which, in general, is more casual and affordable than other cities in the U.S.
Other than cooking and eating, I enjoy the outdoors. I have become an avid runner since starting graduate school, since it is a nice way to clear the mind. Compared to the rest of Texas, Austin’s rolling hills can be an interesting challenge to runners, but the popularity of jogging and cycling among Austin residents along with the city’s fantastic trail system makes it an easy hobby to keep.
What would you like to do with your graduate degree?
I plan to seek a faculty position upon completion of my Ph.D. My experience as a student and a practicing engineer reinforces my belief in mentorship. Having participated both as a mentor and mentee with the Society of Women Engineers programs, I fully appreciate the impact of such relationships, particularly for underrepresented minorities and women in science and engineering. Having been an instructor for Richland College (part of the Dallas County Community College District) and teaching introductory engineering classes such as statics and dynamics, I fully realize that career mentorship does not start when embarking on a new career, but rather during postsecondary education, particularly for nontraditional students and underrepresented students who may not have the same support other students have at home. Becoming a faculty member in transportation engineering will allow me to combine my passion to conduct research in sustainable transportation with the chance to teach and mentor students, assisting in their success in the transportation field.