Texas A&M University students have been involved in the research process at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) since the Institute’s founding in 1950. Currently, TTI employs 216 students — 75 of which are graduate research assistants. TTI’s Materials and Pavements Division alone employs 61 graduate and undergraduate assistant researchers. As they were 67 years ago, students are still an integral part of the work done at TTI.
“Graduate research assistants are crucial to the success of the Materials and Pavements Division since they are often responsible, under the supervision of their advisors and principal investigators, for testing, data analysis, and the initial preparation of reports and papers,” says David Newcomb, division head. “Likewise, research assistants also benefit from hands-on lab and field work, mathematical modeling, and the experience of writing technical reports. This is how I began my career at TTI, and it was a great start.”
“Working at TTI has allowed me to learn more about the career path I’m pursuing, and helped me to set the foundation for my career in the future,” explains Fawaz Kaseer, a graduate assistant in TTI’s Pavement and Materials Division.
Kaseer has worked on National Cooperative Highway Research Program Project 9-58: The Effects of Recycling Agents on Asphalt Mixtures with High RAS and RAP Binder Ratios. Kaseer’s contributions included performing a literature review, testing binders and mixtures, analyzing lab data toward using more recycled materials, writing reports and research papers, and presenting findings at various conferences.
“Fawaz is an intelligent, responsible and motivated graduate student researcher who develops solutions to problems that arise during the course of experimental research,” says TTI Research Engineer Amy Epps Martin. “He’s also an excellent team player who works well with others to develop implementable research products.”
Ah Young Seo, graduate assistant in TTI’s Materials and Pavements Division, worked on the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) project Performance Evaluation, Specifications, and Implementation of Trackless Tack.
Seo conducted a literature review, characterized trackless tacks available in Texas, tested and analyzed methods to evaluate the tracking resistance and bond strength of trackless tack, and documented test procedures and findings with research team members.
“Working at TTI has added to my research experience and focused my interests. It’s allowed me to get familiar with various experimenting techniques and devices,” says Seo. “The TxDOT project provided me with an opportunity to work in the field and eventually offered a new idea to develop for my dissertation.”
Seo has also garnered international recognition for her work. In 2015, she was selected for the Road Scholar Program provided by the International Road Federation based on her academic credentials and leadership potential. Award recipients are required to attend a professional curriculum in Washington, D.C., during the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting.
For the past two years, Mona Nobakht has assisted TTI researchers on the Oklahoma Department of Transportation–funded project Selection of Long-Lasting Rehabilitation Treatment Using Life Cycle Cost Analysis and Present Serviceability Rating.
Nobakht developed an innovative, performance-based methodology for selecting long-lasting and cost-effective rehabilitation treatments for Oklahoma roadways. Three papers were published from the results of the study in various industry journals, and the results were also presented at several conferences, including the TRB Annual Meeting.
“Collaborating with highly experienced TTI researchers gives me a broader perspective on research development,” says Nobakht. “I believe being part of TTI is a bold item in my resume, which could help me achieve my career goals.”
Nobakht was the 2017 recipient of the Dr. David R. Jones IV scholarship, awarded annually by the Association of Modified Asphalt Producers. Out of 64 applicants, three award recipients were recognized based on their activities in asphalt technology, work experience relative to the highway industry, and school activities.
TTI Assistant Research Engineer Maryam Sakhaeifar says, “I have found Ah Young and Mona to be intelligent engineers of the highest character, socially confident and hard working — natural leaders.”