From humble beginnings as the son of a handyman and housewife, Chieh “Ross” Wang, is now one of the top student researchers in the Transportation Systems Engineering program at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Ross and his sister were the first members of his family to earn graduate degrees, and he is the first to study civil engineering and pursue educational opportunities outside of Taiwan. Now he is working as a researcher and teaching assistant, while enrolled as a full-time Ph.D. student. When he’s not in class or working, you might find Ross playing sports with friends or singing in his church choir.
Ross Wang spent his first 26 years living in Taiwan. In elementary school, Ross lived in a rural area and commuted three hours every day to get to and from his school in the city, due in part to traffic congestion and infrequent buses. These commuting experiences inspired him at an early age to consider the impacts that transportation systems have on peoples’ lives, and work to improve those systems. After years of academic study, Ross was admitted to National Taiwan University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Civil Engineering.
As an undergraduate, Ross pursued his interest in transportation engineering, excelling in electives courses on air operations, pavement design and management, and public transit. While earning his master’s degree, Mr. Wang performed research on intelligent vehicle systems, such as those that can help to prevent vehicle rear-ending and lane departure. After completing his graduate program at National Taiwan University, Ross served in the military for one year. Mr. Wang then returned to his alma mater to work for two years as a full-time teaching assistant, where he led laboratory courses and provided academic support for up to 10 courses per semester.
In 2010, Ross’s love of learning and broad interest in transportation led him to apply for 13 Civil Engineering Doctoral programs in the U.S., with five offering him admission and three providing research funding: Perdue, University of Minnesota, and Georgia Institute of Technology. Mr. Wang chose Georgia Tech because the research topic that he would be working on, under the guidance of Dr. James Tsai, was most aligned with his interest in development and application of advanced technologies. Ross then moved to Atlanta with his wife, to begin his Ph.D. program the following school year.
Since beginning his research and studies at Georgia Tech, Ross has contributed to many different research projects and earned numerous accolades along the way. In his first year on campus, Mr. Wang was supporting a project on traffic sign detection for intelligent vehicles, which was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation. This project, which spanned four years and cost almost $4 million, enabled Dr. Tsai and his research team to purchase a van and equip it with advanced detection and processing technologies for intelligent vehicle research and development.
Doing field work on a research project.
Other areas of research that Ross has supported include those focused on work zone safety, pavement life, and traffic estimation. The work zone safety project, which used camera footage of incoming vehicles at a work zone to develop technologies for detecting vehicles that may pose a risk to workers, was funded through the NCHRP IDEA program of the Transportation Research Board. Another project sought to better predict pavement life based on historical pavement condition data and a deeper understanding of the effects of rehabilitation and maintenance on pavement lifespans.
Mr. Wang has also helped the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) with estimating traffic for streets without traffic counters through spatial analysis. His current project involves developing a handbook for GDOT regarding which pavement markings to use under different conditions, and the expected service life of different pavement marking materials. Much of Ross’s research has contributed to the integration of safety considerations for pavement management and resurfacings. Along those lines, Ross is nearly ready to propose his dissertation topic, which may use Dr. Tsai’s research van to look more closely at pavement rutting behavior to guide maintenance best practices.
On top of his success as a researcher, Ross has been a diligent and engaged student, which has earned him several scholarships and awards. The first major scholarship that he won was from the Taiwan Ministry of Education. Wang was the only student in Civil Engineering to win the prestigious award that year, which provided him with $32,000 over two years. In the 2013-2014 academic year, Ross served as the Vice Chair for Finance for the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Georgia Tech chapter and won a Georgia ITE Scholarship. He also won awards from ITS Georgia, the Georgia chapter of ASHE, and the International Roads Federation (IRF). In fact, Ross has won all but one of the scholarships that he has applied for over the last few years. This is important to Ross, as he supports not only himself, but his wife and two year old son.
Participating in intramural sports at Georgia Tech.
When Ross earns his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering, he hopes to join the faculty of a university in the U.S. or Taiwan, or possibly another English or Mandarin speaking country. Ross says that he enjoys working with students, which has been reinforced by a number of experiences he has had over the course of his life. Inspired by tutors that he had in high school, Ross tutored high school students when he was in college to help his students as his tutors had helped him. He also went with the Campus Christian Fellowship every summer during his undergraduate years to teach children on a remote island in Taiwan. These experiences were very influential for Ross, who had the opportunity to teach underserved children and to learn from them. The experience helped him realize how critical it is for teachers to care about their students, even taking the time to help and support them outside of class.
Mr. Wang found his work as a teaching assistant to be very rewarding, especially since one of his students recently enrolled in the Structural Engineering Doctoral program at Georgia Tech. He has continued working as a teaching assistant during his Ph.D. program. His passion for teaching and care for his students has clearly been recognized, as he won the Bill Schutz Graduate Teaching Assistant Award for the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and was a finalist for the institute-wide CETL/BP Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award in 2015. Ross knows that, “small things that [teachers] do can really affect other people’s lives.” He loves seeing his students succeed, and looks forward to a career as an educator and transportation researcher.