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CCEE Ph.D. students awarded 2022 NSF International Research Experience for Students Program

CCEE Ph.D. students Minerva Bonilla and Morgan Westbrook, advised by CCEE professor Dr. William Rasdorf, were awarded the 2022 National Science Foundation (NSF) International Research Experience for Students (IRES) Program: Artificial Intelligence in Smart Transportation, which supports international research and research-related activities for U.S. science and engineering students.

Awardees were selected from more than eight states and six disciplines and will travel to South Korea in July to learn the fundamentals of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and predictive modeling related to smart transportation at the Korean Advance Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). The problem-based learning experience will expose participants to“inquiry-based” research projects and allow them to network with professionals working in South Korea’s smart city center and consulting firms.

“I was thrilled to learn of my acceptance into the program,” Westbrook said. “The opportunity to travel to South Korea for the first time and learn more about their Smart Transportation implementation will be amazing. I am most excited to understand the methods that Korea has used to develop such an all-encompassing transportation system covering both rural and urban areas alike.”

“I felt happy and grateful to be selected and have the opportunity to participate in this program,” Bonilla said. “I am looking forward to establishing connections with professionals in an international setting, learning about South Korea’s transportation systems and getting immersed in the country’s culture.”

Minerva Bonilla

Bonilla’s current research is related to the constructability of transportation infrastructure, and she is interested in solving construction problems related to building diverse and unconventional intersections and interchanges (DUII) without incurring cost increases, schedule delays and congestion while maintaining traffic flow.  

“My objective is to seek solutions on how constructability principles can be used so that departments of transportation can more readily adopt modern and unconventional designs as alternatives for improving transportation infrastructure meeting future societal transportation needs and doing so safely and sustainably,” Bonilla said. “Participating in the NSF IRES Program is the perfect opportunity for me to advance my understanding of research related to transportation and how artificial intelligence can be incorporated.”

Morgan Westbrook

Westbrook’s research involves working with the N.C. Department of Transportation to assess and optimize the inspection, maintenance and replacement processes of LED traffic signals. Her long-term goal is to work in STEM communication and policy fields, focusing on infrastructure and transportation.  

“The opportunity presented by the NSF IRES Program, to learn the fundamentals of AI and predictive modeling related to smart transportation, will provide me with a depth of knowledge on the subject allowing me to clearly communicate the needs and wants of the scientific community to decision makers and to the public,” Westbrook said. “It has been clear to me for the last few years that smart cities and smart transportation are going to be critical to the successful development of societies in the future. For these engineering advancements to be implemented well, it is crucial that those developing policy in this area be well versed in the technical aspects of model development and planning for the future.”