Kara Kockelman
Dr. Kara Kockelman
Professor of Transportation Engineering, University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX

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Close Up
  • Describe what you do in your current work situation.
    I teach college students about transportation engineering, which includes design of roadways (for example, how tight the curves can be and what speeds are safe), how to best obtain and use new data (on injuries sustained in car crashes, traveler preferences for different vehicle types, & so forth), and how to predict the future (using models of traveler behavior and location choices of businesses and households).
  • Why did you choose engineering?
    Math and science subjects came more easily to me, and I knew a lot of people had enjoyed their engineering studies (including my brothers), so it seemed very natural. I chose civil engineering because I wanted to assist local, national and global communities, through thoughtful planning, projects and policies.
  • Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
    I attended the University of California at Berkeley for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I have a bachelors degree in civil engineering, with a special minor in economics. In graduate school, I received masters degrees in both civil engineering and city and regional planning, with minors in statistics and economics. I also took several operations research courses for background in use of optimization tools.
  • What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
    During the school year I teach three to six hours each week. I also host several office hours each week, in order to speak more directly with students in my classes, and with those undertaking research with me. We tackle all sorts of interesting and relevant questions, like whether SUVs are more dangerous than passenger cars, whether bypasses around towns do any harm to the local economy, how the trade flows across Texas are affected by travel networks, and how quickly households are likely to buy plug-in vehicles and how far they are likely to drive them each day.  We university faculty enjoy a tremendous number of opportunities to interact with and support our students, and these activities are always highly rewarding. For example, I used to supervise the Engineers Without Borders student group, which had projects in Mexico and Cameroon. Several times a year, I enjoy technical conferences at a continuing series of wonderful destinations, including Japan, Australia, Switzerland, and Italy; and I regularly interact with transportation engineers in far-flung locations, like Singapore, Turkey, India and Argentina. I also propose new research, which helps fund the work and studies of new graduate students, and I am asked to critically review recent and proposed research. Finally, I deliver talks on transportation engineering topics to a variety of people -- including policymakers, members of the news media, colleagues and the public at large.
  • What do you like best about being an engineer?
    I really enjoy being able to rigorously and mathematically attack social problems to arrive at sound solutions that are objective and precise. The work that I do is relevant, with immediate and long-term benefits.  I will never regret that I obtained a quantitative education (with many math and science courses), since such material is quite difficult to master on one's own, particularly later in life. Engineers tend to have little problem picking up many of the non-technical nuances that go with addressing all sorts of problems. We tend to be very effective at finding solutions to things like congestion, crashes, and other sources of inefficiency in society.
  • What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
    I believe that top engineers have to thoughtfully recognize the non-engineering aspects of problems, including human biases and social expectations. They need to be able to appreciate others' preferences and beliefs, and communicate their ideas in a manner that effectively bridges competing perspectives. This can be difficult for highly objective thinkers, but such challenges are the spice of life!
  • What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
    I want to be able to predict the evolution of cities, as a function of transportation investments and public policy, so as to enhance decision-making and minimize uncertainty. I also want to solve the problem of congestion on our roadways by introducing something called credit-based pricing. Under this policy, people are given money credits to drive each month -- but they must use many of these credits to drive popular roads at peak times. This avoids wasteful congestion delays and makes people consider the full impact of their driving behaviors. People who use buses or drive during off-peak times of day can earn special benefits; others will spend more than their initial budget -- but will avoid delays. And, of course, the roads will operate much more efficiently.  Finally, I would like to see all countries, and particularly the United States, comply with the Kyoto Protocol and its successor.  Transportation, trade, housing, and location choice decisions have enormous impacts on our nation's carbon emissions, and we can and should be meeting those targets. Engineering research and policy recommendations may well make such dreams a reality.
  • What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
    My husband and my family, no doubt. (Thank goodness for them!)  More recently, a colleague of mine (Dr. Hani Mahmassani) has had a terrific influence. Also, I was very fortunate that the U.S. Department of Transportation sponsored fellowships for young civil engineering students at the University of California, Berkeley, in order to move me quickly in that direction (back in 1990).
  • Any other stories or comments you would like to share with EngineerGirl visitors?
    Engineering requires a fresh, clean mind to cut through the trees and see the forest. It's like the story of a big truck that won't fit under a low bridge by an inch or two, and the experts are going crazy trying to figure out how to get the truck under the bridge.  A child walks up & suggests simply letting air out of the truck's tires. Problem solved!
Biography

Professor of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering and William J. Murray Jr. Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Kockelman is a registered professional engineer and holds a PhD, MS, and BS in civil engineering, a Masters of City Planning, and a minor in economics from the University of California at Berkeley. She has received an NSF CAREER Award for faculty research and teaching (2000-2004), a Ford Fund CAREER Award (2002), a U.C. Transportation Center “Student of the Year” Award (1998), U.C. Berkeley’s University Medal (1991), and the NSF and Berkeley Fellowships for graduate study (1993-1998). In 2002, MIT’s Technology Review Magazine identified her as one of the world’s Top 100 Innovators under age 35, and the Council of University Transportation Centers awarded her its inaugural Young Faculty Award. In 2006, the Regional Science Association International presented her with its Geoffrey J.D. Hewings Award (for exceptional promise as a young regional science researcher). Dr. Kockelman received ASCE’s 2007 Harland Bartholomew Award, to recognize her many transportation planning contributions, including her novel credit-based congestion pricing theory. She also received the Heart of Texas’ Women’s Transportation Seminar’s 2007 Woman of the Year Award and was made a WTS-HOT Honorary Member in 2012. In 2010, Dr. Kockelman received ASCE’s Walter L. Huber Research Prize in Transportation Engineering, for contributions in the areas of data acquisition and analysis to facilitate decisions in transport planning and policy-making. Between her undergraduate and graduate studies, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the rural Andean region of Ecuador, managing the construction of potable water systems and other sanitation infrastructure. She continues her public service through her research and interactions with a variety of Austin groups, including student and alumni associations and professional societies. Dr. Kockelman's primary research interests include the statistical modeling of urban systems (including models of travel behavior, trade, and location choice), energy and climate issues (vis-à-vis transport and land use decisions), the economic impacts of transport policy, and crash occurrence and consequences. She has taught classes in transportation systems, transport economics, transport data acquisition and analysis, probability and statistics, design of ground-based transportation systems, and geometric design of roadways. For several years, she advised the student chapters of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and Engineers Without Borders (EWB) at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Kockelman chaired the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) Travel Survey Methods committee for three years (2007-2010) and served on the Transportation and Land Development committee for 11 years (1999-2010). She also serves on the organization’s Committee on Transportation Economics, Committee on Statistical Methods, and Integrated Transportation and Land Use Modeling subcommittee. She has been a member of the two National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) panels and one Transit CRP panel, and recently served as a member of the National Research Council’s Committee for the Study on Relationships among Development Patterns, VMT, and Energy Conservation. She sits on the editorial advisory boards of Transportation Research (Part B, Methodological), Journal of Transport and Land Use, Journal of Regional Science, International Regional Science Review, Economics of Transportation and Papers in Regional Science. In 2005, she was elected to the North American Regional Science Council, and in 2009 she chaired the annual North American meetings of the Regional Science Association International. In 2010, Dr. Kockelman was appointed to a three-year term as a member of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Advisory Council on Transportation Statistics. In 2011, she was appointed to a two-year term on ASCE’s national Awards Committee. Dr. Kockelman is primary and co-author of over 100 papers across a variety of subjects, all of which involve transportation-related data analysis. She has conducted research for the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Cooperative and Strategic Highway Research Programs, the University Transportation Centers program, the North Central Texas Council of Governments and the Texas and Oregon Departments of Transportation. Recent and current projects include NSF grants for spatial econometric models of discrete response and studies of plug-in-electric-vehicle ownership and use, an NSF IGERT on the power grid, an NSF RCN on sustainable cities, an EPA STAR grant for land use, transport, and air quality models, NCHRP projects on demand modeling of non-motorized travel and tolled roadways, and TxDOT projects for holistic evaluation of competing network improvement projects and the development of a transportation economics reference for practitioners.

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Education
U.C. Berkeley BS, MS & PhD in Civil Engineering, Masters of City Planning, Minors in Economics & Statistics
Volunteer Opportunities
  • I am willing to be contacted by educators for possible speaking engagements in schools or in after school programs or summer camps.
Latest Questions
  • Karen Portillo asked Kara Kockelman, University of Texas at Austin

    Added Wednesday, September 20, 2017 at 11:44 PM

    Related to Civil, Environment, Environmental
    Answers 1
    Kara Kockelman, University of Texas at Austin
    Answered Thursday, October 5, 2017 at 3:04 PM
    Great question, Karen! Civil engineering is much broader than environmental engineering, and will expose you to much more content & potential career paths (e.g., geotechnical engineering, materials engineering, transportation engineering, structural ...Read More
  • Ingrid, Chicago

    Added Tuesday, March 22, 2016 at 1:01 AM

    Hi my name is Ingrid! I am currently in high school and I was thinking about majoring in civil engineer and minoring in architecture. I love both math and art. However, I read on some sites that computer science classes are recommended for civil engineering and I was wondering if I should take it. I really wanted to continue my art class though, but because of my tight schedule I'm gonna have to pick between advanced art studio or AP Computer Science. So is it worth it to take AP Comp?
    Answers 1
    Kara Kockelman, University of Texas at Austin
    Answered Tuesday, March 22, 2016 at 1:01 AM
    I remain a huge fan of art in general, and 20th Century art, in particular, Ingrid. I took several art classes in high school, as well as drafting once.  I'm delighted you're enjoying a schedule that allows you to use both sides of your brain! Balance is ...
    Read More
  • Sirsj, Sukkur

    Added Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 1:26 AM

    What are the best future plans of civil engineer after completing the master degree
    Answers 1
    Kara Kockelman, University of Texas at Austin
    Answered Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 1:26 AM

    Civil engineers have all types of terrific opportunities after completing a master’s degree!  Those with a strong business sense and novel ideas may start their own company. Others may join a large or small consulting firm, a city’s ...

    Read More
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CV
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