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Two CCEE graduate students travel to South Korea to participate in NSF program

Bonilla and Westbrook wear traditional Korean Hanboks outside of Gyeongbukgong Palace in Seoul, South Korea.

This July, CCEE Ph.D. candidate Minerva Bonilla and Ph.D. student Morgan Westbrook, advised by CCEE professor Dr. William Rasdorf, traveled to South Korea as part of 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. The main goal of this program is to enable American graduate students to research abroad and engage in a world-class research experience.

Bonilla and Westbrook spent three weeks learning the fundamentals of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and predictive modeling related to smart transportation at the Korean Advance Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). They attended lectures by several of the top researchers in the field of utilizing AI and Machine Learning to understand transportation and implement smart transportation strategies.  Both students are working at the intersection of construction and transportation in their research, and exposure to various Machine Learning methods provided them with additional high-level alternatives to consider in their research methods.

Bonilla said one highlight from the experience was a lecture from Dr. Hwasso Yeo, a professor from KAIST, who discussed AI applications for smart transportation and digital infrastructure. 

Bonilla and Westbrook enjoyed social events with both NSF-IRES and KAIST students.

“In his presentation, he shared the efforts and the decision-making process they are implementing in two ‘Smart City’ projects,” she said. “South Korea started two pilot cities under this concept: Sejong City (known as National Smart City Testbed), and Busan Eco Delta City. A significant part of this presentation was showing how their mobility service plan allows them to implement a good mobility plan. In addition, we learn important concepts on how to make these ideas into reality. For example, how planning and policy, operation, control, and decision-making systems for urban infrastructure systems interact with each other and how crucial they are for implementation of smart cities.”

Bonilla and Westbrook also spent time exploring South Korea, experiencing various elements of Korean culture and history. They visited the Joseon Dynasty palaces in Seoul, folk villages across the country, and the Bulguksa temple in Gyeongju, utilizing the country’s transportation systems in the country including the KTX bullet trains that connect various regions.

“My favorite part of the trip was being able to visit the culturally significant and historic areas around South Korea,” Westbrook said. “The entire country is beautiful and rich in a history that I had very little knowledge of until the last few months.”

Bonilla said her favorite part of the experience was the opportunity to get immersed in the culture.

“I was able to wear a traditional dress (Hanbok), and l become proficient with the use of chopsticks,” she said. “I learned about Korean history and the origin of many of the customs and traditions that are in use today.  Before, I didn’t know much about Korea, but I feel this trip allowed me to learn about and appreciate Asian culture in general.”

Bonilla and Westbrook met with NC State alumnus Dr. Chunho Yeom.

In addition to exploring South Korea, the students met with CCEE alumnus Dr. Chunho Yeom (Ph.D. 2015), who serves as the department head of Global Construction for the International School of the Urban Sciences at the University of Seoul.  

“Dr. Yeom is very kind and welcoming, we had the privilege to meet him twice, once at his university where he gave us a tour and discussed his current research work,” Bonilla said. “The second time we met in Busan, where we had the opportunity to get to know him and his wife better.”

“Dr. Yeom was very generous with his time, providing us with insights into his current international work related to smart cities and transportation development, as well as introducing us to traditional Korean cuisine,” Westbrook said.