News | Former METRANS student worker Jiangbo Yu reflects on collaborative side of the transportation engineering industry

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by Jacob Wong, USC Master of Public Policy, 2023

Jiangbo “Gabe” Yu, a former graduate student in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and student researcher at METRANS, has achieved many more academic and professional accomplishments since his time as a Trojan. 


In 2018, he earned a PhD in Civil Engineering Transportation Systems from the University of California, Irvine. Prior to and during his PhD program, Yu worked for a variety of transportation agencies throughout Southern California and statewide, such as the City of Los Angeles, Caltrans, and SCAG. Most recently, he joined engineering firm AECOM as a senior modeler, and remains with the organization in a part-time consulting role.


Jiangbo “Gabe” Yu, PhD in Civil Engineering Transportation Systems,
University of California, Irvine


Looking back on his path to his current position, Yu recognizes that these accomplishments were only made possible by being exposed to both the planning and engineering aspects of the transportation industry.


Yu began his journey in transportation engineering at the Beijing Institute of Technology, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Transportation Studies. Yu found that this degree offered a balance of opportunities to explore both his personal interest in cities and urban design as well as technical engineering principles.


During his undergraduate program, Yu had an opportunity to study abroad at UC San Diego, where he took classes in the school’s urban studies program. “I got a chance to explore SoCal a little bit,” said Yu. “Back then, I thought everywhere in the U.S. had that kind of weather.”


Southern California’s weather and other factors, such as relatives living nearby, convinced Yu to return to the area after finishing his undergraduate studies. “I wanted to change my environment a little bit,” he said. He enrolled in the USC Viterbi School to pursue a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering with a concentration in Highway and Transportation Engineering. 


Yu credits his time at USC as a chance to expand his knowledge in the field of transportation engineering. “In general I had a very positive experience,” said Yu. “I met a lot of helpful people including [former METRANS Associate Director Victoria Deguzman]; Professor James Moore was very helpful.”


In addition to the university’s faculty and resources, Yu also believes his Master’s program helped shape his perspective on a career in the field. “What I learned at USC became more useful later in my career,” he said. “At the time I didn’t really have a ‘big picture’ understanding of public transportation engineering and its relationship with urban planning.”


In addition to his engineering classes in Viterbi, Yu took courses at the Price School of Public Policy which exposed him to the laws and regulations associated with transportation planning. Yu credits courses such as PPD 634: Institutional and Policy Issues in Transportation taught by Professor Genevieve Giuliano with broadening his understanding of how public transportation engineering intersects with the policymaking field.


After completing his Master’s degree, Yu worked in the public sector as a transportation engineer for several years before starting his PhD program at UC Irvine. Yu’s studies at UCI were more strictly research-focused and he remains at the university today as a postdoc researcher where he is focusing on smart planning of transportation systems and AI modeling. 


Working primarily as a researcher now, Yu has stepped away from his full-time role at AECOM, although he remains in the organization. “I transitioned from a full-time consulting position with AECOM to a more flexible role so I only take on projects I’m interested in right now,” he said.


However, even today Yu recognizes the importance of his work experiences and the interdisciplinary knowledge he acquired at USC on his current research. “Without the industry work it would almost be impossible to pursue this research trajectory,” said Yu. “By collaborating with public agencies and consultants, I know what the industry and planning agencies really need and why they behave in a certain way, so I can target my research efforts better on what’s really needed.”


About the Author:

Jacob is a second-year MPP student at the Price School of Public Policy. He is interested in urban policy and transportation planning issues. As a recent LA transplant, he enjoys exploring the area and the local food scene in his free time.