Junior Sarah Widrow of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department is the recent recipient of two significant awards: a Women’s Transportation Seminar / Rhode Island Undergraduate Scholarship of $1,000; and a Safety Research Using Simulation University Transportation Center (SAFER-SIM) Excellence Award for Undergraduates. Widrow maintains a high GPA of 3.71 and has been awarded previous scholarships, including the Paul C. Washburn scholarship and the Richard Giglio Scholarship.
WTS is a society for women in transportation with a mission to “... attract, sustain, connect, and advance women’s careers to strengthen the transportation industry” and a vision of “equity and access for women in transportation.” The WTS scholarships are competitive and based on each applicant's specific transportation goals, academic record, transportation-related activities, job skills, and leadership statement.
The SAFER-SIM award is presented to one student from each of the SAFER-SIM Institutes based on applicants who have provided notable support to a SAFER-SIM project and completed at least 24 hours of undergraduate coursework with a GPA above 3.0 (out of 4.00). The award winners must also have displayed accomplishments in technical merit, research capability, academic performance, and leadership.
Widrow has spent her time as a UMass industrial engineering major focusing on automobile transportation safety. As Assistant MIE Professor Anuj K. Pradhan explains in one of his powerful letters nominating Widrow for the two awards, she has served as an undergraduate research assistant since the fall of 2019 on his team, which does extensive automobile safety research in the MIE Human Performance Laboratory.
According to Pradhan, “She is an outstanding and most deserving candidate given her demonstrated excellence in scholarship, her impactful research in the field of transportation safety, and her achievements and leadership ability. Ms. Widrow is a dedicated researcher and a hard-working student and is gifted with a natural intuition and grasp of research.”
As Widrow explains her attraction to transportation research, “In freshman year, I worked for a research and consulting company that focused on disruptive technology, and my research topics included last mile delivery, mobile robotics, and automated vehicles as they related to the future of mobility. These topics opened my eyes to some of the most innovative and inspiring technologies emerging from the transportation industry.”
That experience led Widrow to Pradhan’s team. “The group focuses on the human factors related to vehicle safety, especially involving advanced vehicle technologies and automated vehicles,” she says. “Through the research experience and my “Human Factors of Automated Vehicles” course, I have cultivated a passion for looking into the human interaction with vehicles and how the design of new safety technology can have unintended consequences.”
Pradhan says that Widrow has been an invaluable asset for his group’s research, especially in two recent SAFER-SIM projects focusing on transportation safety in the domain of advanced vehicle technologies. In the first project she was instrumental in recruiting, data collection, preparing the data for analyses, and manuscript preparation. In the second project she was involved in critical tasks examining the role of drivers’ understanding of advanced driver assistance systems in modern vehicles and their impact on safety from a human factors perspective.
“Although these tasks were more suited for senior graduate students, Ms. Widrow was able to complete them admirably,” says Pradhan.
Pradhan also notes that Widrow has taken part in a number of important and relevant student organizations, including serving as a general body member in the Society of Women Engineers Student Chapter and on the executive board of the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers Student Chapter. She has also been selected to be a member of the Dean’s Undergraduate Advisory Group and is a member of the UMass Engineering Student-Faculty Mindfulness in Curriculum Committee.
As Widrow explains her motivation for seeking out these responsibilities, “In my experience I have found that leadership opportunities come naturally to people who observe a need for improvement and are willing to put the effort in to make impact.”
Pradhan says that “Ms. Widrow has also worked hard on disseminating her research. She presented posters related to her research at the Graduate Diversity Symposium at UMass, and her work was selected for presentation at the UMass Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates conference.”
Additionally, according to Pradhan, Widrow has contributed significantly to preparation of journal papers and is listed as a co-author on a recently published journal article in Traffic Injury Prevention and in a conference paper that is being presented at the Annual Conference of the Transportation Research Board.
Not surprisingly, Widrow is already projecting all these invaluable learning experiences onto her future career. “I hope to be part of human-centered design processes for new vehicle technologies,” she says, “while maintaining accountability to driver safety.” (March 2021)