How Transportation Engineering Found Me! Doctoral Student Marilo Martin-Gasulla’s Story

Maria “Mariló” Dolores Martin-Gasulla said that when considering a major in college she didn’t actively go searching for it. If anything, it found her.

“During a career day in high school, all my classmates were given various brochures with possible majors to choose from,” said Martin-Gasulla. “But for some reason, I received just a single brochure, and it was on civil engineering.”

Martin-Gasulla had no clue about civil engineering. Her father is an industrial engineer, but she says no other engineering type of professions were ever discussed at home. Her high school teacher cautioned her that civil engineering was one of the toughest fields of study to go into at the Universitat Politecnica de Valencia (UPV) located in Valencia, Spain.

Martin-Gasulla is from Valencia, which is the third largest metropolitan city in Spain with about 1.5 million inhabitants. Valencia is located on the shore of the Mediterranean coast, about 200 miles south from Barcelona. The city is well-known for its various festivals including Fallas with its day and nighttime fireworks and huge, satirical monuments made of papier-mache. The region is also home to the largest production of oranges (1.06 million tons reported in 2011), so many grow in this region that in summer the air is usually filled with the sweet scent of orange blossoms.

In an attempt to learn more about transportation engineering, Martin-Gasulla began working on transportation-related projects while in her second year at UPV. In her fourth year, she took a traffic design course and was immediately hooked by the passion for the field demonstrated by the professor who taught the class.

“Without realizing it, I started to dedicate more hours to this course, working hard to learn everything I needed to know, doing super well on exams,” Martin-Gasulla said.

In fact, she did so well that she was awarded a scholarship by the Ministry of Education of Spain in 2007 to begin work with her undergraduate adviser, Dr. Alfredo Garcia, on her final year project at UPV. In various countries in the European Union, undergraduate students must complete a senior thesis in order to be awarded their bachelor’s degree; this can sometimes delay their graduation date.

Her project involved using metering signals in roundabouts that have reached their capacity limit due to unbalanced flow patterns. Metering creates gaps in the circulating flow, which prevent delays upon approaching a roundabout, allowing the driver to more easily enter. Her study was entirely developed with PTV VISSIM, a microsimulation software.

Martin-Gasulla graduated with honors in 2011, and received various awards in Spain for her work such as the Bancaixa Award, the Juan Arizo Serrulla Award, the Santiago Rubio Munt Intersection Design Award, and 1st Place for Research and Transport Infrastructure Management from Abertis.  Shortly after graduating from UPV, she began a master’s degree at the very same university, continuing to work on roundabouts.

It was during her first trip to the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) annual meeting in 2015 that her networking with students and professionals from various universities and companies peaked an interest in her to pursue a doctoral degree.

“Mr. Wade Odell, my TRB mentor and friend, advised me that I should go for a Ph.D.,” Martin Gasulla said. “Realizing the importance of TRB in my field, and how fascinating it was to interact with transportation professionals, professors and students during the conference, I decided not only to do a Ph.D., but also to submit a paper on my undergraduate research work on roundabouts. And that was the start of this amazing adventure.” Her colleague and friend, Ana Tsui Moreno, who recently received her doctoral degree from UPV, and spent three months at the UFTI as a visiting scholar, encouraged Martin-Gasulla to pursue advanced studies.

The following year, her paper titled “Benefit Measurement of Metering Signals at Roundabout with Unbalanced-Flow Patterns in Spain” received the Best Paper Award at TRB 2016 by the TRB Roundabouts Committee.

All of this was happening while Martin-Gasulla was working on her master’s degree in transportation engineering at UPV. Her thesis involved a study of gap acceptance and platooning in a roundabouts using PTV VISSIM. At this point in her story, it is worth noting that she was also working for a local traffic engineering company at the same time she was going to school; she wanted to get a taste of what it was being employed in the transportation industry. It was during this time she also met Dr. Manuel Romana, a transportation faculty member at the Technical University of Madrid, who also encouraged her to pursue graduate studies at the University of Florida.

“UF? Are you sure? Wow, that’s a huge one,” Martin-Gasulla recalled saying to Romana. She said that Romana spoke to her about Dr. Lily Elefteriadou, director of the UFTI, and her work in traffic engineering, and that she should contact her about being a part of her team. Martin-Gasulla had already heard great things about Elefteriadou.

Martin-Gasulla completed her master’s degree in July 2015, and she presented her work at the International Symposium on Enhancing Highways Performance (ISHEP) in Berlin, Germany in summer 2016. Her “amazing adventure” brought her to  Gainesville, Fla., in the summer of 2016 for her Ph.D. studies. Currently, she is working on a project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) on autonomous and connected vehicles at intersections. The interdisciplinary team is led by Elefteriadou, who is her now her Ph.D. adviser. Martin-Gasulla’s role involves programming a commercial simulation software for use with autonomous and connected vehicles.

“This is the kind of project that I had been dreaming of participating in for months now,” Martin-Gasulla said. “It’s a challenging task, but since it’s based on a platform that I have some previous knowledge of, I feel confident about it. Every step closer to accomplishing this task puts a smile on my face.”

What motivates and compels Martin-Gasulla to continue her academic model of excellence here at UF? Many things.

“It is a compendium of a variety of things such as the quality of the academic program, the coursework to further improve and polish my skills and my adviser, Dr. Lily, who believed in me since the beginning,” Martin-Gasulla said. “She is advising me not only in the academic issues but also in how to grow as a professional, and I am learning from her every day. She is a great role model.”

So in the end, transportation engineering did indeed find Martin-Gasulla, but the smart, witty, and talented woman from Valencia, Spain, has excelled beyond all its expectations.