Pacific Southwest Region 9 UTC

My Experience as a NaTMEC Sponsored Student

Thursday, July 5, 2018 - 10:35pm

By Farinoush Sharifi, Texas A&M University

I learned of the National Travel Monitoring Exposition and Conference (NaTMEC) when CARTEEH Director Dr. Joe Zietsman and my supervisor Dr. Reza Farzaneh asked me if I was interested in applying for a sponsorship to attend this event, held from June 10-13, 2018 in Irvine, California. After viewing the conference website, I quickly realized what a great opportunity it would be. I submitted my master’s thesis work, “Application of Big Data to Characterize Unexpected HOT Lane Choice Behavior” to the conference and was thrilled to learn that I had been accepted for both a poster and a lectern presentation, as well as a sponsorship by The Traffic Group. 

“We greatly appreciate Dr. Deguzman and The Traffic Group for giving this opportunity to Ms. Sharifi,” said Dr. Farzaneh.  “We are very proud of her work and active participation at NaTMEC.  The research work she presented at NaTMEC is a great example of how advanced data analytics and data fusion techniques enable us to better understand a complex behavior,” he added. “Her advanced technical skills, passion for learning, and self-confidence lead me to believe that she will be among the leaders in the field of mobility and transportation data analytics.”

Farinoush with Dr. Reza Farzaneh (left) and Dr. Joe Zietsman (right)

Farinoush presenting her poster at NaTMEC

For my master’s thesis, I looked into an unexpected HOT lane choice behavior occurring on Katy HOT lanes in Houston under supervision of Dr. Mark Burris, my academic advisor in Civil Engineering department at Texas A&M University. We found that 11% of paid HOT trips have a negative travel-time-savings compared to the free lanes and proposed a model to identify possible causal factors for future HOT lane trip prediction. Having used big integrated data from automated vehicle identification (AVI) sensors for this research, I believed it would be a good topic for the NaTMEC, and I became so excited to be selected to present it.

Additionally, I was privileged to be appointed student lead at NaTMEC to lead and guide fellow student attendees and presenters, and organize student events. I believe improving leadership skills is an inseparable part of any career development, and I have always been involved in professional development activities and served in multiple leadership positions within the student chapters. I was more than excited that I was not only attending the NaTMEC but also going to present my research and hold a leadership position at the conference.

NaTMEC was a really unique experience for me, and I highly encourage students to take advantage of the opportunity to attend this conference, and others, in the future. NaTMEC sessions were focused on a variety of topics related to data in transportation. I met many professionals working with travel data and learned about the companies’ advances in travel monitoring systems. I believe the future of the transportation is highly reliant on data collection and analytics for improved planning and a more connected environment. In expectation of smart communities, travel monitoring via sensors and the integration of datasets from various sources will be a necessary and valuable step. The improvement of these processes, both their infrastructure design and database management, is a priority of many professionals at NaTMEC and was the primary focus of the conference.

My experience as the student lead was excellent. I was so pleased to work with Dr. Victoria Deguzman to organize the student reception event at the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC). “Ms. Sharifi was a wonderful and valuable addition to the conference,” Dr. Deguzman shared.  “We could not have selected a better student lead, and greatly appreciate her efforts and the support of The Traffic Group for making her participation possible.”  Before starting the tour, Mr. John Lower, Associate Vice President of Iteris Inc, gave us a lecture on the primary purpose of ARTIC as an intermodal transit center and its unique structural steel frame. Arriving at ARTIC, I and fellow student attendees took a look around and had dinner at the on-site restaurant. This event was specifically held to develop a student network out of the NaTMEC experience and I believe this goal was successfully met. During the dinner we introduced ourselves and talked about our research and area of interests. Also, we talked about the exciting or strange transportation projects or ideas we have seen in other countries or cities. Now, back from NaTMEC, I am connected with many other students and can follow their study and research progress.

Student Reception at ARTIC

Perhaps most importantly, I want to express my sincere appreciation for the sponsorship from The Traffic Group Inc. which allowed me to attend NaTMEC, who reviewed my application and presentation topic and selected me for their sponsorship. I had the great opportunity to meet their president, Mr. Wes Guckert, at a conference at Texas A&M University before NaTMEC, on May 7th, 2018. We discussed both my presentation at NaTMEC and The Traffic Group’s endeavors, including a future project on managed lanes.

I asked Mr. Guckert about his projects on the automation of parking garages and the automation costs and benefits, which led to an interesting discussion of autonomous vehicles (AVs) and the future of the transportation. He noted that transportation would be entirely different in the future, and AVs would change not only the infrastructure but also some things we assume to be basic and permanent ways of life, such as vehicle ownership. I am so grateful for the opportunity to meet with Mr. Guckert and his generosity in both sponsoring me and sharing his expertise and vision with me.

Farinoush with Traffic Group President Mr. Wes Guckert

Attending NaTMEC is one of the best professional experiences I have ever had. Interesting talks, meeting transportation data professionals, presenting my research, and serving as the student lead happened only through this conference. Of course, none of these would have been possible without the support, trust, and help of Mr. Wes Guckert, Dr. Victoria Deguzman, Mr. John Lower, Dr. Joe Zietsman, Dr. Reza Farzaneh, Dr. Mark Burris, and Dr. Andrew Birt. I would like to thank them for providing me with this unique and great experience.

About the author

Farinoush Sharifi is a Ph.D. student in transportation engineering at Texas A&M University. She also works as a graduate research assistant within the Environment and Air Quality division at Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI). Sharifi earned a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the Sharif University of Technology, Iran and completed her master’s degree in Transportation Engineering at Texas A&M University. She has more than three years of experience working at TTI on various transportation projects including roadway design, roadway safety, economics, air quality, and intelligent transportation system (ITS), focused on data analytics and application of machine learning and machine vision techniques in transportation-related projects.