Eileen Herbers has been named one of the top transportation students in the country by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

A fifth-year doctoral student in biomedical engineering and mechanics at Virginia Tech, Herbers, was named the Student of the Year for the Safe-D: Safety through Disruption University Transportation Center. Herbers was presented with the award for her work on measuring the potential safety impact of automated driving systems at the Council of University Transportation Centers Awards Banquet preceding the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting on Jan. 6.

“It is an honor to have been named student of the year,” Herbers said. “Safe-D has allowed me to collaborate with some amazing researchers at VTTI, and I’ve been able to learn more about the breadth of transportation safety analysis and the skills needed to perform impactful research through these projects.”

Previously led by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Safe-D is one the Department of Transportation’s research consortiums with a focus on the safe implementation of disruptive technology. Each year, the Department of Transportation honors outstanding students from the centers for their achievements and promise of future contributions at the annual awards banquet of the Council of University Transportation Centers.

“Eileen’s dedication to transportation safety as both a student and a researcher is inspirational,” said Zac Doerzaph, executive director at VTTI. “She is extremely deserving of this award, and I am beyond excited to see the positive impact that she will have on transportation.”

Herbers’ dissertation aims to determine how to measure the potential safety benefit of automated vehicle technologies and automated driving systems as well as to identify missing pieces of current automated driving safety practices. Through her analysis of naturalistic driving data, the research will help develop the understanding of the capabilities of automated driving systems and be used to ensure safety remains a transportation priority with the implementation of advanced vehicles.

In addition to her research and classes, Herbers served as president of Women in Transportation Seminar. In this role, she coordinated and hosted multiple speaker events as well as took other engineering students on trips to local engineering companies. 

“I am extremely grateful for the help from my advisor, Zac Doerzaph, my other Ph.D. committee members, and all of the other researchers I’ve worked with at VTTI for their help throughout the years,” she said. “I am humbled that my hard work is recognized, and I am very excited to see how it can make an impact in the real world to make our roads safer.”

Herbers is set to defend her dissertation on 2024 and has already started a role at VTTI as a research associate within the Division of Freight, Transit, and Heavy Vehicle Safety. She received a bachelor's degree in applied mathematics engineering from Northwestern University in 2018 and is on track to graduate with a Ph.D. in engineering mechanics from Virginia Tech in 2024.

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