Staff Spotlight: Tackling complex problems with Transport Engineering

Meet the School of Engineering and Built Environment’s newest staff member: Dr Kelly Bertolaccini. Kelly holds a PhD in Transportation and Urban Engineering and will be teaching Transportation Engineering courses at both the Nathan and Gold Coast campuses. Kelly shares her background in the Transportation Engineering field and the diverse career pathways for students who are thinking of specialising in this area. She also sheds some light into her research and how she plans to tackle some of the biggest questions facing our cities today.

What is your career background?

In 2015, I received my PhD in Transportation and Urban Engineering from the University of Connecticut, USA. Shortly after completing my studies, I accepted a post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of Queensland to continue my research in public transport systems, accessibility, and the creation of equitable transport systems. I have spent the past two years focused on the intersection of age, transport, and technology, with a focus on Queensland’s aging population. I am keen to continue my research on public transport and transport for vulnerable communities at Griffith University.

Dr Kelly Bertolaccini
What have been some of your career highlights?

The highlights of my career so far have been working alongside transport policymakers, in both the United States and Australia, to explore emerging transport issues and develop useful tools for improving transport systems. At the University of Connecticut, I was a part of a multidisciplinary team which developed t-HUB, an online tool to help local transport planners determine the impact of new and existing public transport routes on vulnerable communities. I have also worked with Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads and Department of Communities, Disability Services, and Seniors to gain insight into older Queenslander’s transport needs and their use of emerging transport technologies.

“Transport engineers design and improve transport systems, services, and infrastructure”

What courses will you be teaching at Griffith and what are you most looking forward to?

My first year at Griffith University will be research focused. Afterwards, I will be teaching transport engineering courses at both the Nathan and Gold Coast campuses. I am excited to work with my colleagues and students at Griffith University to tackle some of the biggest questions facing our cities today. Griffith University’s dedication to interdisciplinary research and work with industry partners creates a great environment for exploring and addressing real-world problems.

What is Transport Engineering and how can students get into this field?

This includes everything from the local footpaths and bikeways that allow you to safely cross your neighbourhood to the international freight and logistics systems that support international trade. A good transport system enables all of us to meet our needs safely and efficiently, while minimising our impact on the environment. Transport engineers help to make this happen!

Like most transport engineers, my background is in Civil Engineering. I encourage any students interested in transport engineering to pursue a degree in civil engineering. 

What are the career pathways available in transport engineering?

Many transport engineers go on to work for city, state, or national transport ministries or operators so they can be a part of shaping their local transport systems. However, this is far from the only option. Private engineering firms often work alongside local transport authorities to model the effects of various transport projects and assess the safety and efficiency of existing transport systems. Many private companies and non-profits, even those that are not obviously linked to transport, hire transport engineers to help them determine efficient, cost-effective ways of delivering their goods and services.

“One of the major problems being tackled by today’s transport engineers is the transport sector’s significant contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions”
What are some of the types of real world problems a Transport Engineer would face in today’s society?

Transport engineers regularly work with land-use planners and geographers to design neighbourhoods and communities in ways that reduce the need for private vehicle travel. We also work with colleagues in economics, psychology, and sociology to develop strategies to encourage greener travel behaviour.

In my own research, I work alongside planners and social service workers to address another real-world transport problem – the lack of transport options available to vulnerable communities, especially those who are unable or cannot afford to drive. As Australia’s population ages and retires from driving, providing alternatives to private vehicle travel will become increasingly vital.

Any tips or advice for students looking to get into this field?

My advice to students is to take the time to explore and learn more about the topics and issues that most interest you. Try to find where your skills and interests intersect with real-world problems and get involved!

One of the wonderful things about transport is that we interact with transport systems nearly every day. If you are interested in transport engineering, I encourage you to start by exploring your own city or neighbourhood and trying out different transport modes. Notice what works and does not work about the transport system and ask yourself how it could be improved.

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