Student Spotlight: Megan Hoklas
Name: Megan Hoklas
Hometown: Grand Prairie, Texas
Current position: EIT at HDR, Inc.
Hobbies: In my free time I enjoy reading at local coffee shops, playing volleyball and flag football, and training for the Austin Half Marathon in February.
Where were you before you came to pursue your graduate degree at UT?
Before pursuing my graduate degree, I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin’s Civil Engineering program where I had the opportunity to be an undergraduate research assistant and study abroad in Vienna, Austria.
How did you become interested in transportation engineering?
It was the summer after my freshman year, while studying abroad in Vienna, that I discovered my passion for transportation engineering. I was actually planned on changing my major the following semester, but then I rode the U-bahn. This was my first encounter with a rapid transit system; experiencing its efficiency firsthand ignited a fire within me to learn more about transportation systems and people’s travel behavior patterns.
Why did you decide to pursue your graduate studies here at UT?
Beyond the outstanding graduate program that UT offers, my greatest influence for attending UT was the transportation engineering faculty. I could not pass up the opportunity to learn from the most knowledgeable professors in the field and have them mentor me.
What kind of work are you doing here? What role are you are playing in the research, and what are your responsibilities?
During my time at UT, I was a graduate research assistant under Dr. Chandra Bhat working on various Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) projects. The first project I was involved in focused on finding solutions to manage growing travel demand in urban areas of Texas. Our team enhanced TxDOT’s travel demand modeling system to analyze alternative transportation modes (i.e., public transportation, biking, and walking) and evaluate multimodal projects at regional levels. This work will allow TxDOT in the future to project mode shared in response to demographic changes and improvements in transit services. Another project that our team worked on was updating TxDOT’s Demand Responsive Transit (DRT) Accessibility tool to include “what if?” scenario analyses to evaluate changes in fleet characteristics, population demographics, and service areas and operators. This tool would allow TxDOT to predict riders’ future needs and accommodate them more efficiently.
Beyond the work I completed with Dr. Chandra Bhat’s research team for TxDOT, I examined the activity-based microsimulation of human activity-travel patterns. My thesis specifically focused on the connection between public health and human activity-travel patterns, formulating a latent variable structural equations model system. Given the significance of the health consciousness and physical activity propensity variables in explaining activity engagement and mode use, we found that activity-based microsimulation models may be enriched in terms of the model specification by including such latent variables in travel surveys.
What got you interested in this field?
During my junior year, I applied and was accepted into the Undergraduate Summer Internship in Transportation at UT Austin, which afforded me my first experience with the research field of transportation. Over that summer, I assisted a graduate student with their Transportation Research Board paper analyzing the time-use patterns of dual-worker households using a nested multiple discrete continuous extreme value (MDCNEV) model. It was then that I knew this is what I wanted to study.