Hailing from Shanghai, China where he obtained his bachelor’s degree from Tongji University, Rongjie Yu decided to see the world from a different angle by pursuing a post-graduate education in the U.S. Rongjie began his graduate studies in civil engineering at the University of Central Florida in 2010, acquired his master’s degree in 2012, and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. (aiming for a 2014 graduation date).
Growing up, Rongjie watched his various relatives work as civil engineers, which made it easy for him to naturally gravitate to the civil engineering discipline. After working as a research assistant during his undergraduate studies, he became intrigued with the transportation systems. He also decided to pursue a Ph.D. and, the next thing he knew, he was on American soil — halfway around the world from his homeland.
Having grown accustomed to the transportation systems in China, Rongjie is thrilled to apply his knowledge of civil engineering to transportation systems and their dynamics in the U.S. “The two systems are very different. [In the U.S.] people prefer private vehicles to travel while, in China, the majority of people choose public transit,” he says. “The good thing is that people in the U.S. are more likely to follow the rules than those in China, and there are good data resources to investigate current transportation systems. I would like to learn more about transportation management in the U.S., which will help me improve the transportation systems in China.”
As a research assistant at UCF, Rongjie focuses on accidents involved with transportation. In particular, his research topics include analysis of the cause-effect of various crashes as well as the incorporation of Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) to reduce crash occurrence. He chose accident reduction as his main research interest and as his dissertation topic. “The traffic safety research will be very useful to China,” he says. “Car accidents take place so frequently in China nowadays and cost so many lives.”
Rongjie is also intrigued by region-specific factors involved in traffic accidents. “There are big crashes caused by fog or smoke in Florida every year, a situation which is very unique to Florida. I would like to investigate the crashes in low visibility conditions and how we can prevent them. In addition, we have done analysis comparing the crashes involving elderly and young drivers. From the crash injury severity analysis, it was found that older drivers are less likely to end up with severe crashes at intersection than young drivers. This may be attributed to the differences in behaviors where elders tend to drive slowly and pay attention while young drivers are risky.”
Rongjie’s ITS-related research is aided by Dr. Abdel-Aty, deputy director of UCF’s Transportation Safety and Operation Center for Advanced Transportation Systems Simulation (CATSS). Currently Rongjie works to implement Variable Speed Limits (VSL) system for a mountainous freeway. “VSL evaluates the system through simulation software. Speed limits can be lowered when the freeways are not suitable for high speed operation - for instance, during severe weather conditions or incidents. This would be very useful with such systems to control the freeway in real life, but the driver compliance is a big issue.” He’s enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with an exceptionally experienced professor Abdel-Aty. “He’s a very efficient and nice person,” he says. “I benefit a lot from him in both my work and my life. The advisor that I had in my undergrad was Dr. Aty's former student. He went back to China and became a faculty member there. That's why I chose to come here to work with Dr. Aty.”
Rongjie’s work has been nationally recognized. In 2010, he was awarded the Provost’s Graduate Fellowship to support his research at UCF, followed by the TRB Young Researcher Paper Award and International Road Federation (IRF) Road Scholar Program nomination in 2012.
Rongjie hopes to return home to China upon completing his degree and make a difference in accident reduction field as a professor. “I will propose projects with the government to identify crash hot spots and make it safer for people.”
In his spare time, Rongjie enjoys traveling and watching soccer games.
Read Yu's 2013 article "Multi-level Bayesian analyses for single- and multi-vehicle freeway crashes" published in the Accident Analysis and Prevention journal.