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CCEE faculty, student receive recognition at annual NCAA Conference

Daniel Findley

Adjunct Assistant Professor Daniel Findley and civil engineering student Sara Watkins both received recognition for their dedication to transportation engineering at the 2023 North Carolina Airports Association (NCAA) Conference in Pinehurst, North Carolina, in April.

Findley, who serves as associate director at NC State’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE), won the NCAA President’s Award. Findley was selected for his “invaluable insights, research, data and analysis [that] have helped catalyze innovation across our airport system and promote our airports’ significant impacts to the communities they serve,” according to the organization.

Findley specializes in economic impact analysis, multi-modal transportation, human behavior research, transportation engineering studies, asset management and inventory, and horizontal curve safety. He served as Principal Investigator (PI) or co-PI on more than 80 funded projects and has conducted research for sponsors including the NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Federal Highway Administration, Airport Cooperative Research Program, Institute of Transportation Engineers, and others.

Findley, who first started working with airports across North Carolina as a graduate student at ITRE in 2005, said he felt “surprised and proud” to receive the award. 

“I’ve appreciated the collaboration and engagement throughout my whole career with NCAA and individual airports. The data and information provided by airports are critical for developing a robust understanding of the economic contributions of airports to their communities.  We’ve worked hard at ITRE to help airports tell their story in a variety of ways, such as the State of Aviation and airport flight animations. I’m also appreciative of all my ITRE colleagues and partners at the NCDOT Division of Aviation for their mentorship, leadership, and teamwork — this type of work takes a great team to successfully complete.” 

Findley noted that transportation is “one of the most impactful services,” and it’s how we “do all the things that add value to our lives,” such as connecting with friends, accessing goods and services, gaining access to education and employment, visiting parks and recreation opportunities, and more.  

“In transportation engineering, we strive to provide safe, efficient, equitable, and healthy options for travelers,” he said. “If the transportation system meets those objectives, it can positively transform lives, families, and communities. NCAA is the nexus for airports in North Carolina — connecting airport professionals with each other and important information — and it provides amazing opportunities to network with airports that serve a wide variety of users in the state, from travelers to businesses to agriculture to emergency response and more.”

Sara Watkins

Civil engineering student Sara Watkins received the Bruce Matthews Scholarship Award. The award is named in memory Bruce Matthews, who was a dedicated employee of the NCDOT Division of Aviation.

Watkins serves as an engineering ambassador for the College of Engineering. She is also secretary for NC State’s Women in Transportation student chapter, a member of the NC State Marching Band playing trombone, and a member of the National Society of Black Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers. 

Watkins said the transportation industry has always interested her because it’s such a “big part of our lives as we move from one place to another, using all the different modes out there that we can study and improve. 

“The big issue I’d say I’m passionate about is doing it all in a way that’s sustainable and good for us as humans,” she continued. “There are so many advantages to living in a walkable city, its positive impact on one’s mental health among other perks. I love reading about ways to improve pedestrian pathways or create better transit oriented development. Traveling is something I really love to do, using all modes. But for us Americans, airplanes are often the best way to get us on our adventures far away. So I really am looking forward to joining the transportation — and potentially aviation — industry to work on projects that connect communities and impact people on their journeys to everywhere.”

Watkins said her dream job after graduation would involve lots of design work where she could see the projects “come to life.”

“I’d like to get out of the office and see the site’s progress and eventually see many people able to utilize the spaces I work on,” she said.