Transportation Scholars Program student highlight: Bo Wang, Iowa State University

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June 23, 2015
Bo Wang
Bo Wang

Meet Bo Wang. Originally from Xi’an, China (a city of eight million in the central part of China), Bo has called Iowa State University (ISU) his home since 2008.

Since then he has received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in transportation engineering from ISU and is currently pursuing his PhD in transportation engineering (with an expected graduation in Fall 2015).

If you’re from ISU, you may know him as the president of the Transportation Student Association (TSA). A member since 2009 (joining when he was just a senior undergraduate student), he said this about his experience: “I am very happy to serve the students in this club and we have made really good memories.”

Did you know that TSA is a parent organization for the ISU student chapters of the Institute for Transportation Engineers (ITE) and the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS/A)? Or that the club now has 25 students consisting of both graduate and undergraduate students? In the regular club meetings, speakers are invited from public transportation agencies and private consulting companies to talk about a variety of transportation-related topics. In addition to the speaker meetings, they also have outreach events to educate middle school and high school students about careers in transportation. In 2015, TSA was awarded the distinction of “outstanding student club” by the ISU Engineering Student Council.

But why transportation, Bo?

“I’ve been interested in the transportation field since I was a child. My father works at a railroad construction company in China and he is always very proud that his company built the high-speed rail and improved people’s quality of life in China. After I came to the United States, Dr. Nadia Gkritza was the first mentor who introduced me to the transportation research field. In my junior year at ISU, she encouraged me to write a research paper on pedestrian safety and we were fortunate to win the “best student paper” award from the International Roadway Federation in 2009. In my senior year, I conducted research with Dr. Shauna Hallmark on evaluating the emission impact of roundabouts in Minnesota. This paper got published in the Transportation Research Record (TRR). It was my first time seeing my name in an academic journal, and it was a very exciting experience. Since then, I have conducted many interesting research projects with Dr. Shauna Hallmark in my graduate study. In addition, I also interned at the Iowa Department of Transportation (Iowa DOT) for two years and Dr. Michael Pawlovich at the Iowa DOT also had a great influence on my interests in transportation. I am grateful to have so many good mentors in my life that guided me to the transportation field.”

When asked about his role model, Bo replied, “My role model is Steve Jobs, even though he is not a transportation engineer. I like the way he pushed the limits, thought outside the box, and challenged the traditional way of thinking. He had strong curiosity in so many things and was able to revolutionize the existing products that dramatically improve people’s quality of life. Most importantly, he is not just a dreamer, but also a doer who can make his dream come true. I think those values are especially important for transportation engineers. The emerging of internet and technology has dramatically changed every aspect of society, but it still has limited impacts on transportation systems. Ironically, the biggest impact of the internet on transportation systems is probably the increasing number of distracted drivers. Highways and automobiles used to lead the prosper economy in early 20th century, but it loses people’s attention in this information age. I believe it is now a good time for transportation to take the lead again by introducing the connected vehicles (internet of things), automated vehicles, and big data analytics. Those emerging technologies will revolutionize the way people travel and dramatically improve people’s quality of life. I would say if Steve Jobs were alive today, he would probably start his new company in the transportation field.”

With plans to graduate from the Transportation Scholars Program in Fall 2015, Bo has worked with Dr. Hallmark on the Strategic Highway Research Program 2 Naturalistic Driving Study (SHRP2 NDS). This “one-of-a-kind” study allows researchers to observe drivers’ daily driving behavior in the real world while also allowing them to understand how drivers interact with vehicle, roadway, and traffic environments.This research project collected approximately 3000 drivers’ real-world driving data for two years in the United States. A total of four petabytes data, which is equivalent to four million gigabytes data, were collected in six states and stored at Virginian Tech. The topic of his dissertation is the functional time series analysis of drivers’ behavior on rural two-lane roads using Naturalistic Driving Study data.

“In this dissertation research, I have encountered many interesting yet challenging issues. I do believe this is the future of transportation safety research and will significantly help us understand the role of human factors in crashes and near-crashes. The results could provide suggestions for better roadway design principals, policy making on distracted driving, and even the development of algorithms for connected vehicle and automated vehicle.”

What about the Tom Maze Transportation Seminar?

“I have participated in almost all MTC seminars and found all of the presentations very interesting.  Early this year, Mr. Neil Pederson, the executive director of the Transportation Research Board (TRB), gave us an overview of how complex research projects are conducted. I tend to get lost in the details of everyday research, but forget the big picture. His presentation summarized the major research projects at TRB and gave me a broad view and deep understanding of how transportation research projects are organized and conducted in the US. In the following week, Mr. Christopher Anderson from the climate science program at ISU discussed how climate change affects the delivery of transportation projects. It was very interesting to see transportation system from different point of view. It reminds me how a much a transportation system is really a complex system that needs collaboration from a diversity of fields, such as engineering, statistics, environmental science, economics, and policy making. And Dr. Jiangping Zhou gave a lecture on big data and it was fascinating to see the opportunity of big data in the transportation field. Lastly, Dr. David Yang from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) gave an interesting and informative lecture on the human factor research at FHWA, which is very relevant to my dissertation research. Overall, I would say the MTC seminar is a very successful program to give me the opportunity to get exposed to a variety of research topics and get to know students from other universities. I really appreciate this great seminar program organized by MTC.”

He added that the Transportation Scholars Program has played a “critical role in my graduate study at ISU.” By providing travel scholarships to present research at conferences, opportunities to present at the annual Midwest Transportation Consortium, and even more opportunities to learn the state-of-the-art knowledge from professionals—he appreciated the opportunity “tremendously.”

Future plans?

“As an old Chinese saying goes: truth can only be found from the unity of observing, thinking, and practicing. I spent the first 20 years of my life in school to learn how to observe and think. I believe it is now a good time to apply what I learned from my research in the real world. I plan to work in industries in the fields of connected vehicle, automated vehicle, and big data analytics. I think these fields will revolutionize the way people travel in the much safer and efficient transportation systems of the future.”




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