Student profile: Aaron Greenwood

Civil Engineering is in Aaron’s blood. “My dad is a civil engineer --- same as my grandfather, uncle, and 4 cousins. We joke sometimes that we could start our own consulting firm!”

Aaron demonstrates visible excitement when talking about the topic. While sitting in a meeting discussing an upcoming summer program for K-12 students, Aaron talks excitedly about using traffic signs in the games that will be used to help the students learn about civil engineering. He loves the field and enjoys sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with others.  

Aaron studied civil engineering as an undergrad, Master's and now PhD student. As an undergrad, he developed an interest in transportation through the “Introduction to Transportation Planning, Operations, and Design” course. At that time, he planned on one day becoming a practitioner focusing on roadway design. In graduate school he worked with his advisor, Michael Hunter, on a work zone study with the Georgia Department of Transportation and on a UTC-funded project on traffic control devices and work zones. Delving deeper into research on human factors and work zones, he realized he had found an exciting, new territory for engineering.  He also realized that he wanted to go into teaching and decided to pursue a PhD.

Aaron is integrating psychology and computer science into his civil engineering studies. He's completed a minor in Human-Computer Interaction, consisting of classes in psychology and computer science, looking at the design of interfaces and how people interact with machines. He is interested in making highways safer not just through better design but understanding how drivers interact with and respond to their surroundings. “By pulling from the field of cognitive science, you can see how people react to traffic devices and work zones, and we can measurably do without having to do field testing in a dangerous environment.”

Aaron really enjoys his cross-disciplinary studies. “You get a very different perspective from those fields. People in the School of Psychology are very receptive to my work. As engineers, we often get wrapped up in standards and costs, whereas psychologists are concerned with the basic research: how does someone see a dot on the screen.” Aaron’s work attempts to blend the two fields to develop a more comprehensive way of how people think about the built environment.

Aaron's current research projects include "Improved Methods for Delineating Diverges in Work Zones" and "Factors Influencing Visual Search in Complex Driving Environments." Aaron will also be teaching this summer at Georgia Tech. “I’ll be teaching the Introduction to Transportation Planning, Operations, and Design course, which is the undergrad elective for civil engineering. It’s the students’ first chance to learn about transportation planning, look at road design, learn how to accommodate different road users. It’s a great opportunity to get them hooked! Transportation hits every aspect of your life. If you’ve done it right, no one thinks about it – if it works, it works and you don’t worry about it. So, even if those civil engineering students are not going to continue studying transportation, they will still come away from this class as better users of the system in general. “

In addition to conducting research, proposing a dissertation topic, and teaching a course, Aaron is also the newly-elected President of the GT chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers and is also chairing the new Campus Planning Student Advisory Board. Last year, he served as the Vice President of Student Welfare on the Student Government Association, planning the career symposium and working on other career development initiatives.  

And what plans does Aaron have for the future? He looks forward to someday being a professor. “I really like teaching and conducting research at a university. Your work has almost an immediate impact on how the system works. As soon as we make our recommendation, it can be implemented. That’s something I really want to keep up.” He’s enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) on projects. “I’m very impressed with their support of research and dedication to improving their system. Government often gets a bad rap for being stodgy, but that hasn’t been my experience with GDOT. They let us know what they want, but they also give us the freedom to answer questions in ways they may not have anticipated.” He’s also found GDOT engineers to be very supportive of students. “In the senior design process, they are interested in getting involved – sitting down with students, putting in a lot of time with them to help them understand the problems and solutions.”

In 2012, Aaron was awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to support his research on how people interpret traffic control. His NSF proposal focused on visual search patterns as people drive through complex environments. “You look at a work zone and there’s a lot going on: flashing lights, giant equipment. There’s a lot to distract you. In our field, we’re not quite sure how people start to look around that -- there are theories that have helped, but quantifying that is what I want to focus on.” He expresses his appreciation for the NSF program: “it puts a lot of faith in the education and research system – if you have a good idea, you can pursue it.”

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer