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Top, from left, Ziyuan Pu from University of Washington-Seattle, Yongxin Peng from Texas A&M University, Amin Mohammadnaza from the University of Tennessee, bottom, from left, Chaolun Ma from Texas A&M University, Xiaoyu "Sky" Guo from Texas A&M University and Carol Tan from the Federal Highway Administration during the virtual award presentation. | Image: Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE)
Three doctoral students from the Zachry Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Texas A&M University won first place with their paper in the 2020 Excellence in Highway Safety Data Award Competition jointly administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE).

Their award will be announced during the 2020 virtual ITE annual meeting and their paper will be published in the ITE Journal later this year.

The paper, titled “Safety Criteria for Selecting a Smart Corridor: Random Forest Using HSIS Data from Washington State,” proposed a two-step selection method with a machine learning algorithm to identify safety criteria for helping practitioners in selecting a corridor ready to implement smart technologies, also known as a smart corridor.

“My team and I are deeply honored to receive this award. We are very proud of winning first place in the competition. We believe that we represent not only ourselves but also Texas A&M University,” said Xiaoyu “Sky” Guo, lead author, civil doctoral student focusing on transportation and a graduate assistant researcher at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI). “We are the first Aggies winning this award, and we hope this prestigious award gives us the recognition that can inspire other students.”

Yongxin Peng, also a graduate assistant researcher at TTI, and Chaolun Ma also contributed to the research of the paper. All three students are active members of the Texas A&M ITE student chapter.

Guo said she has wanted to compete for this award since she first learned of it in 2018 and shared her idea with Peng and Ma.

“Yongxin specializes in working with spatial and geographical data, and Chaolun is a very knowledgeable peer in the area of machine learning,” she said. “While we reviewed papers and gathered pieces about safety criteria for roadways, many papers and reports by Dr. Dominique Lord came up, and we found him to be an expert in the area of safety. Dr. Lord is very friendly and encourages collaboration and communication, so it was not very hard to invite him to be our faculty advisor.”

Lord, professor and A.P. Wiley Faculty Fellow in the department, worked with the three students from the beginning and reviewed their paper before submission.

Guo said conducting the research in a short time frame and communicating efficiently with her team impacted her as a student.

"Leading a team to win a national competition/award boosted my confidence and highlighted my achievement," she said. "It truly helps me believe that I am on the right track in pursuing an academic career. I believe teamwork and team management is critical in the engineering field these days. The gains from leading a team and knowing how to collaborate with others are sometimes more important than my gains from a piece of work.”

The Excellence in Highway Safety Data Award, which was created in 2016, encourages university students to use highway safety information system data with the intent of introducing potential future highway safety professionals to useful quality safety data, the application of appropriate research methods to derive recommendations and the practice of using data to make decisions that advance highway safety.