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CCEE Ph.D. student awarded 2023 Megan Cornog Memorial Highway Safety Scholarship

Thomas Thelen

CCEE Ph.D. student Thomas Thelen was awarded the 2023 Megan Cornog Memorial Highway Safety Scholarship from the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center (HSRC). Thelen, advised by Assistant Professor Katherine Anarde, conducts research focused on coastal resilience and adaptation to sea level rise. Thelen is involved with the Sunny Day Flooding Project, with a goal of measuring, modeling and understanding the impacts of chronic roadway flooding in coastal North Carolina communities.

“Winning this award feels like recognition that [an] interdisciplinary approach to transportation safety is a step toward more resilient coastal transportation systems,” Thelen said. “[This scholarship] takes a broad view of transportation that includes engineering, driver behavior, planning, public health, and environmental issues. Similarly, our interdisciplinary research team of civil engineers and social scientists has recognized that coastal flooding affects the lives of coastal residents in multiple ways that cannot be addressed by one single discipline.”

Thelen became interested in transportation safety at a young age, biking to school every day while growing up, and he continues to bike to work as much as possible. 

“When you are a cyclist, you really appreciate transportation features that promote the safety of all roadway users, drivers, and others,” he said. “Being on a bike also helps you recognize areas where transportation safety is lacking.”

“Thomas Thelen’s application is impressive because he is not only studying but already putting an interdisciplinary research approach to work,” said Caroline Mozingo, Interim Co-Director at HSRC. “Congratulations and thank you for the work you are doing to try to make North Carolina’s roads at the coast more resilient and safer for everyone. We encourage you to stay focused on transportation safety and mobility for all road users—no matter where your future studies and career may lead.”

HSRC will host Thelen to discuss his research and areas of interest with staff in the fall of 2023. According to Thelen’s research on the North Carolina coast, “sea level rise is driving an increase in the frequency of flooding along coastal roads; one community [the research team works] with experiences more than 40 roadway flooding events every year. The team is developing computer models to simulate the timing, depths, and extents of this roadway flooding. Model results will inform community discussions of flood mitigation measures that they view as important to a resilient, safe transportation future in their community.”

The annual Megan Cornog Memorial Highway Safety Scholarship aims to foster the education and professional development of graduate students interested in transportation-related areas including, but not limited to, engineering, driver behavior, planning, public health, and environmental issues. Candidates are evaluated based on a written essay, as well as academic performance, career goals, extracurricular and professional activities, and work experience.

The $1,500 scholarship is named in memory of a former HSRC staff member, Megan Cornog, who died November 7, 2010, at her home in Carrboro, NC, following a courageous battle with cancer. After earning her master’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill in May 2009, Megan began her career working as a project coordinator for HSRC, focusing on pedestrian and bicycle issues. Since establishing the scholarship in 2006, HSRC has awarded 16 scholarships to graduate students in the UNC system. 

This story was first published by UNC HSRC.