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Ana Guajardo and Gabriela Perales Named UTC Students of the Year

by Erin Urbank & Amber Hadenfeldt

As the year came to a close, the Mid-America Transportation Center (MATC) and the University Transportation Center for Railway Safety (UTCRS) announced their selections for student of the year. In recognition of their academic dedication and success, Ana Guajardo was named 2015 MATC Outstanding Student of the Year and Gabriela Perales was selected by UTCRS as the 2015 Student of the Year.

As undergraduates, Gabriela and Ana attended the University of Texas-Pan American, now known as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). Gabriela graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering in Fall 2014 while Ana received her Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering in Spring 2015. Both students participated in UTCRS’s Research Experience for Undergraduate Students (REU) 2014 summer program under the supervision of the Nebraska Transportation Center (NTC). Currently, Gabriela and Ana are pursuing their Master’s degrees at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

To gain hands-on experience outside of the classroom, Ana works as a Graduate Research Assistant at the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility (MwRSF). Her work there has been regarded as consistent and reliable. Dr. Cody Stolle, Research Assistant Professor at MwRSF and faculty mentor to Ana, describes her as “quick to adapt to circumstances and new material,” and adds that “her positive attitude encourages others around the office to work harder.”

At MwRSF, Ana has conducted research about transportation safety-related topics, such as a crash-worthy pedestrian safety rail. The focus of her current research, and the topic of her thesis, revolves around two Department of Defense projects called, “Vehicle Performance Limits,” and “Traffic Calming and Passive Safety Measures Phase II,” which relate to traffic calming measures for military bases. Ana has made significant advances in analyzing threat and non-threat vehicle reactions to passive safety measures using computer simulation and analytical methods, and is actively involved in setting up physical tests to calibrate and validate the computer models.

While completing her undergraduate degree, Gabriela worked with Dr. Mohammad Azarbayejani on research pertaining to a health monitoring system, as well as Dr. Mahmoud on pavement research that resulted in a publication in February 2015 called “Investigation of Relationships between AIMS Shape Properties and VST Friction Values.” Over the summer of 2013, Gabriela completed an internship with the Texas Department of Transportation.

Gabriela’s involvement has continued as a graduate student. With the sponsorship of UTCRS, she works as a Graduate Research Assistant at NTC under the guidance of Dr. Laurence Rilett, MATC and NTC Director. Recently, she presented her research at the 2015 annual IHEEP (International Highway Engineering Experience Program) conference. In the summer of 2015, she mentored REU undergrads and assisted them in calculating/estimating friction values along horizontal curves using ITS devices and software. Her thesis work is tentatively titled, “Empirical Side Friction Factors on Circular Horizontal Curves Near Highway Railway Grade Crossings.

“Gabriela demonstrates an excellent balance between academics and technical skills, and her passion and superior work ethic are constantly driving her to achieve her career goals,” said Dr. Constantine Tarawneh, UTCRS Director and previous faculty mentor to Gabriela during her undergraduate studies. “She is a role model for many young female engineers at UTRGV who see her as an inspiration and an example to follow in their engineering careers.”

In conjunction with their student of the year awards, Gabriela and Ana have been selected to receive the 2016 Patrick McCoy Travel Award in the amount of $800 each to attend the 2016 Transportation Research Board (TRB) meeting, an annual industry-wide conference that takes place in Washington, D.C. On January 9, one day before the commencement of the 2016 TRB meeting, Ana and Gabriela received their student of the year awards at the Marriot Marquis in D.C.