Remembering Xiaoyu Zhu

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Dr. Xiaoyu Zhu graduated with her doctoral degree in civil engineering in 2011.

The UFTI is mourning the loss of a talented transportation engineering alumna. Dr. Xiaoyu Zhu passed away on April 11, 2020 at the age of 35 after a battle with cancer. Xiaoyu’s former doctoral adviser, Dr. Siva Srinivasan, described her as “highly motivated, smart, and cheerful. Xiaoyu was always interested in research and mentoring other students.” While working on her Ph.D., Xiaoyu focused on safety. Her dissertation was on “An Analysis of Injury Severities of Large-Truck Crashes.” She graduated in May 2011 and worked as a research associate at the University of Maryland and the University of Arizona before landing a job in the private sector working for Metropia, Inc., as a Senior Data Analyst. Xiaoyu Zhu – wife, mother, and passionate transportation engineer – always remembered, never forgotten. The UFTI has assembled a collection of memories from former transportation students and others as a tribute to their peer, friend, and colleague.

Dr. Xiaoyu Zhu as as a student with her adviser, Dr. Siva Srinivasan, during TRB at the UFTI reception in 2014.

“Your first Ph.D. student is always a little extra special, but when that person is someone like Xiaoyu, it means a whole lot more,” said Dr. Siva Srinivasan, an Associate Professor in Civil Engineering who served as Xiaoyu’s doctoral program adviser. “She was highly motivated, smart, and cheerful. Xiaoyu was always interested in research and mentoring other students. When I spoke to her when she was going through her tough times her calmness and maturity amazed me. In fact she also agreed to co-chair UFTI’s alumni advisory committee during this period and provided insights on how UFTI could engage our alumni to enhance the experience of current students. It was my privilege to have had the opportunity to work with such an amazing person and it is a tragedy that we do not have her in our midst anymore. I wish her family all strength as they navigate their lives without a wonderful daughter, wife, and mother.”

“Xiaoyu always carried herself with an optimistic attitude and a calm demeanor,” said Dr. Yingyan Lou, an Associate Professor at Arizona State University.  “She was kind and generous.  Even when she was fighting cancer, she held her spirits high.  When a few of us visited her in her Tucson home, Xiaoyu commented jokingly that she was glad her illness gave old friends who are now scattered across the country an excuse to get together.  Xiaoyu will be missed.”

Cui’e Lu, Lu Ma, Vipul Modi, and Xiaoyu Zhu

“You always have special memories of your friends in a new country, new University, new classroom and new journeys!” said Vipul Modi, a Senior Engineer at Bentley Systems in Singapore. “Xiaoyu and I started our post-graduate journeys together in 2007 at TRC, and she was among the most smart, competitive and wonderful fellow students. You will always be remembered Xiaoyu, and I will pray that you find peace!”

“I have known Xiaoyu since 2007 when she was my schoolmate in both Tsinghua and UF,” said Lu Ma, an Associate Professor at Beijing Jiaotong University, China. “I cannot help but to recall some memories since I realized that we have lost her forever. I am deeply shocked and grieved, even though I know she was fighting the illness. Xiaoyu is a smart, beautiful, and strong girl. I know that she will happy and have peace wherever she is now. We will all miss her and remember the good times we had with her. My deepest sympathy to her family during this difficult time.”

In class as graduate students, Xiaoyu Zhu is pictured to the left wearing a ponytail, Dimitra Michalaka in the center and Cui’e Lu at right.

“I had the pleasure to share a lot of time with Xiaoyu while we were both at UF,” said Dimitra Michalaka, an Associate Professor at The Citadel. “She was very intelligent and dedicated to the profession, and I admired her self-motivation and discipline. I am so sorry to hear the devastating news of her loss. My deepest condolences to her family.”

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Xiaoyu,” said Jing Li, Ph.D., PE, a Senior Project Manager at Elite Transportation Group, Inc. “She was a loving wife and mom, a great friend, and a smart, dedicated researcher. Xiaoyu fought a two-year battle with cancer with unwavering courage and optimism. I first met Xiaoyu on the UF campus in 2008, and we studied together in the same program until she graduated in 2011. Throughout the time I’ve known her, she has shown such generosity and empathy to those in need including myself and many other graduate students. She welcomed us into her home with warm hospitality for festive holidays, shared thoughts and experiences on courses and research, and always made us laugh with her subtle, witty jokes. Even during my job search, after we all graduated and left UF, she would send me job leads and helped me build my network without prompting. I remember our chat after she became ill. She was calm, optimistic, caring, and strong as always. She heard about the difficulties I was going through at the time and instead of talking about herself, she comforted me and encouraged me to stay positive and take care of myself and my family. I am very fortunate to have met Xiaoyu. We will miss you, Xiaoyu.”

“Xiaoyu and I had a chance to collaborate on a couple of different projects for UFTI, and I was always impressed with her eagerness to please those on the project team with her extra effort and patience,” said Dr. Grady Carrick, a Principal at Enforcement Engineering, Inc. “The value of working with nice people cannot be overstated and she will be missed.”

“We still have a decorative flower arrangement, gifted to my wife and I by Xiaoyu many years ago once when she visited us,” said Lihui Zhang, Ph.D., an Associate Professor at Zhejiang University, China. “The flowers are so lively and elegant, just like Xiaoyu herself was—always smiling, and just a little shy.  In our hearts we know she is at peace.”

“It’s heartbreaking to hear about Xiaoyu’s passing,” said Alexandra Kondyli, an Associate Professor at the University of Kansas. “I met Xiaoyu when we were both working toward our Ph.D. at UF. She was always so sweet and kind, with a big smile on her face, and a great researcher and colleague. My heart goes to her parents and family.”

“I just got the heartbreaking email about the passing of Xiaoyu,” said Dr. Kevin Heaslip, a Professor and Fellow at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.  “I always enjoyed catching up with her at TRB and seeing how her career was progressing. No matter what struggles she had, she had a great determination, and I admired that about her. She will be missed greatly.”

“I had a one-year overlap with Dr. Zhu during my study at the University of Florida,” said Fang He, Ph.D., an Associate Professor at Tsinghua University, China. “I still remember that Xiaoyu once invited many new Chinese students, which included me, to her place to watch a football game. She also treated us with a feast of Chinese food after the game. Xiaoyu was nice, quiet, and kind. We feel very, very sorry for losing her.”

“Xiaoyu maintained an optimistic attitude toward life and work,” said Dr. Ziqi Song, an Assistant Professor at Utah State University. “She was such a positive influence on people around her. We were lucky to have known her and have had her in a part of our lives. She was an inspiration to all of us. We will miss her beautiful smile and her indomitable spirit.”