Source: CCAT

Every year, each USDOT-fund­ed Uni­ver­si­ty Trans­porta­tion Cen­ter (UTC) selects a Stu­dent of the Year which is award­ed at the Coun­cil of Uni­ver­si­ty Trans­porta­tion Cen­ters (CUTC) ban­quet in Jan­u­ary. Select­ed stu­dents receive a flight and hotel accom­mo­da­tions in D.C., as well as a pass to the Trans­porta­tion Research Board’s annu­al meet­ing. This year, the Cen­ter for Con­nect­ed and Auto­mat­ed Trans­porta­tion has nom­i­nat­ed Alex Sundt, Ph.D. can­di­date under Yafeng Yin, Ph.D.

Alexan­der joined the pro­gram at the Civ­il and Envi­ron­men­tal Engi­neer­ing Depart­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan-Ann Arbor in 2018 after receiv­ing his Bachelor’s Degree from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia-Berke­ley. He serves as a grad­u­ate research assis­tant to Pro­fes­sor Yin and is the cur­rent Pres­i­dent of the Michi­gan Trans­porta­tion Stu­dent Orga­ni­za­tion (MiT­SO). Alex’s the­sis title is ‘Improv­ing the Effi­cien­cy of Ride-Hail­ing Sys­tems Using Ride-Pool­ing’ and his research inter­ests include emerg­ing mobil­i­ty sys­tems for mixed-use applications.Alex met with CCAT Mar­ket­ing Coor­di­na­tor, Calvin Tut­tle, to dis­cuss his research and nomination.

Calvin: Can you tell us about your research here at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michigan?

Alex: I’m a fourth year Ph.D. stu­dent at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, and I work with Pro­fes­sor Yafeng Yin in the Lab for Inno­v­a­tive Mobil­i­ty Systems.

Calvin: Where did you grow up?

Alex: I’m from Mid­dle­town, New Jer­sey and I did my under­grad at UC-Berkeley.

Calvin: Do you have any hob­bies out­side of trans­porta­tion research?

Alex: I love to go hik­ing. I have vis­it­ed a lot of Nation­al Parks around the coun­try, so I love trav­el­ing, hik­ing, and being outdoors.

Calvin: What’s your favorite Nation­al Park?

Alex: Glac­i­er is Mon­tana was so amaz­ing! The col­or of the water there is insane­ly blue/green. It’s real­ly cool.

Calvin: Is there a sin­gle moment that lead you on the path to trans­porta­tion engineering?

Alex: I’ve been think­ing about this: it’s real­ly hard to iden­ti­fy a sin­gle moment. Ini­tial­ly, I was real­ly inter­est­ed in smart cities and the idea that we can use soft­ware and sen­sors to make all of the infra­struc­ture in our dai­ly life more intel­li­gent. That slow­ly trans­formed into a focus on trans­porta­tion. I think I had a real­iza­tion at one point that trans­porta­tion touch­es lit­er­al­ly every­thing in our lives. And every­one. You need to get around – mobil­i­ty is such an impor­tant aspect of life. In addi­tion to human move­ment, there’s also car­go move­ment and ship­ping. On top of that was the real­iza­tion that I real­ly like work­ing with spa­tial data and maps. That all com­bined, made me real­ize that trans­porta­tion has this huge effect and also is an area I real­ly like work­ing in.

Calvin: What role are cur­rent­ly play­ing in CCAT research?

Alex: I had been look­ing into using mean-field games, which are essen­tial­ly mod­el­ing game-the­o­ret­ic prin­ci­ples and agent inter­ac­tions at a more macro­scop­ic lev­el, and using that to look at trans­porta­tion sys­tems both in terms of how humans respond to depar­ture time changes and traf­fic as well as using auto­mat­ed vehi­cles (AVs) to con­trol that. We have these mov­ing actu­a­tors in the sys­tem, and how do we use that to con­trol the respons­es of human-dri­ven vehi­cles (HDVs).

Calvin: What activ­i­ties are you cur­rent­ly par­tic­i­pat­ing in that advance CCAT’s efforts in edu­ca­tion, out­reach, train­ing, and work­force development?

Alex: I am the Pres­i­dent of the Michi­gan Trans­porta­tion Stu­dent Orga­ni­za­tion (MiT­SO) on cam­pus, and our mis­sion as a stu­dent orga­ni­za­tion, is to get more peo­ple inter­est­ed in trans­porta­tion. We pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties for those who are to fur­ther their pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment. We bring in speak­ers from indus­try and acad­e­mia to talk about their work and to talk about career oppor­tu­ni­ties. We also pro­vide a lot of site tours – we recent­ly toured Mci­ty and we’re going to tour the Michi­gan Depart­ment of Transportation’s Trans­porta­tion Oper­a­tions Cen­ter. Addi­tion­al­ly, we’ve toured Qline and some pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tems in the past. So, we bring in a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ties to trans­porta­tion stu­dents to learn about the field and to get that pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment experience.

Calvin: What accom­plish­ment from the past year are you most proud of?

Alex: It has been a slow year due to the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, but we did sub­mit a paper that I co-authored to Trans­porta­tion Sci­ence, which is a big jour­nal in the trans­porta­tion field.

Calvin: What plans do you have after fin­ish­ing your Ph.D.?

Alex: I am hop­ing to work in indus­try. There’s a lot of research that I’ve been doing in the ride-hail­ing area that, I think, will pro­vide some job opportunities.

Calvin: Do you have any advice for stu­dents that are enter­ing the pro­gram and work­ing with Uni­ver­si­ty Trans­porta­tion Cen­ters (UTC) such as CCAT?

Alex: I think one of the big things for me has been “find the bal­ance of research and per­son­al” such that you don’t burn out. It’s a five-year pro­gram as a Ph.D. stu­dent, at least. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Find­ing things that you like to do that takes your mind off of research is real­ly help­ful, not only for men­tal health but for the research. I think find­ing that bal­ance is real­ly important.