News | Former UCI PhD Student Irene Martinez Set to Become Member of a TRB Committee

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by Jacob Wong, USC Master of Public Policy, 2023

Irene Martinez, who obtained her PhD at the University of California, Irvine in June, was nominated to a Transportation Research Board (TRB) committee in April of this year, becoming an official member of 2022-2025 ACP50 “Standing Committee on Traffic Flow Theory and Characteristics.”


This position is Martinez’s latest accomplishment in a career marked so far by multiple degrees and contributions to the field of transportation engineering. Her research has been influenced by experiences in the field across the world, from her home country of Spain to Southern California.


Irene Martinez, PhD, University of California, Irvine


For Martinez, who has an undergraduate Civil Engineering degree from Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) in Barcelona, Spain, her academic interests originally centered on structural engineering and construction. “I wanted to know how bridges are built,” she said. 


Over the course of her undergraduate studies, Martinez’s interests began to shift from structural engineering to transportation, eventually leading her to pursue postgraduate degrees in transportation engineering. One formative experience in this transition was a co-op program that Martinez participated in during her senior year.


As part of a mandatory study abroad program for engineering students in Spain, Martinez did her senior thesis project at ETH Zurich (ETHZ), a public university in Switzerland, on traffic flow and variable speed limits using highway data from Barcelona. Over the course of the project, Martinez found that she enjoyed analyzing and finding patterns in the traffic data. 


“I think I was lucky with all the professors I had in transportation engineering,” said Martinez. “I really enjoyed these classes, and I think that’s how my passion for it developed.” Martinez said she still remains in contact with the professors she met at ETHZ and UPC today.


After finishing her Civil Engineering degree at UPC, Martinez looked ahead to a Master’s program that aligned with her newfound interest in transportation. She arrived at UC Irvine in large part due to the Balsells Fellowship, a partnership between her home region of Catalonia and the UCI School of Engineering meant to assist Catalan students pursuing graduate degrees in STEM.  


Martinez began her graduate studies at UCI in 2017, pursuing a Master in Transportation Systems Engineering degree and a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering concurrently. Martinez completed her Master’s degree in 2019 and just submitted final paperwork for her PhD program in June. Her research as a graduate student has been heavily focused on different approaches for modeling and management of emerging mobility systems in an efficient manner. 


Martinez believes that this research will enable policymakers to develop broader strategies to achieve more equitable transportation outcomes. “If we have aggregated and efficient models, we can focus on these higher-level policy questions more easily instead of focusing on the details of vehicle movements,” she said.


Through her academic and professional experiences, Martinez has come to recognize the importance of having a more “big-picture” understanding of her transportation engineering work. “I feel that engineering degrees should have more courses related to policy and social sciences,” she said. “All the decisions that engineers are making affect society, so we should have a better understanding of what the problems are and how we [can achieve] more equitable solutions.”


Martinez will look to apply this diverse set of perspectives on transportation to her future endeavors, such as a new job as an assistant professor at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands and her new position on the TRB committee. Martinez has previously attended board meetings as a “friend” of the committee - “If you register as a friend of the committee, you can stay updated on what the board is doing” - she explained, but will now have opportunities to be more active as a decisionmaker as one of the committee’s newest members.


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.