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August 23, 2010

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Staffer earns prestigious fellowship for transportation research

Heckler lands one of 56 Eisenhower awards

During the workday, Ariel Heckler helps with KU’s outreach activities and takes care of day-to-day operations as a project coordinator at the Transportation Research Institute. But when the day is done, she doesn't simply clock out, she asks questions such as “How can departments of transportation be more transparent and engage the public?”

Ariel Heckler

Such questions, the core of her research as a graduate student, helped Heckler earn a Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship. She won one of only 56 fellowships awarded nationally by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The fellowship carries a $5,000 stipend for one year.

Heckler, who has worked with the Transportation Research Institute since 2006, is pursuing a master’s in urban planning. She’s hoping to learn through her research how transportation policy makers can better share their information and plans with the public that is affected by them.

“People don’t always recognize the true value of transportation in their daily lives,” Heckler said. “Mobility is vital and we depend on it every day, but I think we take it for granted a little.”

She’ll examine if better transparency of information will lead to a public more engaged in transportation issues, such as gas taxes that pay to maintain public roadways. She’ll present her research findings at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board in January in Washington, D.C.

Bob Honea, director of the Transportation Research Institute, said Heckler excels at her work and her academic prowess only adds to her capabilities.

“I knew Ariel was an exceptional person the first day I met her,” said Honea. “She has continually revealed talents I didn’t even know to ask about when we interviewed her for the administrative position. I am certain she will be an academic star in whatever field of research she chooses.”

In addition to her own research, Heckler helps spread the word about transportation research happening at KU. One of her projects this summer was preparing for a trade show in Kansas City in which the research of David Darwin, the Deane E. Ackers Distinguished Professor of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering, and Caroline Bennett, assistant professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, was presented.

Heckler said working daily with respected researchers has helped immensely in her own academic pursuits.

“I have a much better understanding of the research process thanks to all of them,” she said. “Having that inside perspective has been really beneficial. We’re trying to put KU on the map in terms of transportation infrastructure research. We have a remarkable amount of talent in that area.”


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