Sogand Karbalaieali, PhD, selected by WDCSITE as 2021 Amy Polk and Selman Altun Young Professional of the Year

Please join us in congratulating Sogand Karbalaieali, PhD, for being selected by WDCSITE as the honored recipient of the 2021 Amy Polk and Selman Altun Young Professional of the Year Award. Each year, the Washington D.C. Section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (WDCSITE) recognizes the outstanding contributions of local professionals to the community, the profession, and the Section.

In order to be considered for this award, Sogand met specific requirements, including being an active member of both the Section and the community. Currently serving as the Director of WDCSITE, Sogand has been featured in ITE publications, spoken at numerous forums and events, and has offered her knowledge and expertise to ITE members from WDCSITE and beyond. Sogand is an invaluable asset to both ATCS and ITE, bridging transportation and engineering with her passion for diversity and inclusion.

Sogand currently serves as a Senior Transportation Engineer at ATCS. She has vast experience in traffic modeling, transportation planning, traffic operations, and data analytics, focusing on transportation and transformational technologies. Sogand is an avid volunteer and urban cyclist, and loves spending time with her three dogs.

What have been the most memorable accomplishments of your career?

“That is hard to answer, but recently I took a data analysis approach to study multimodal transportation for one of our Strategically Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions (STARS) projects. The results were insightful and helped us suggest several pedestrian and bicyclist improvements, as well as local and express bus service upgrades. I presented the data analysis method and findings at a national virtual conference and it was well received — a researcher asked me to share my approach so he could apply it to his projects, and another professional invited me to speak at a local conference. It was very exciting to share my knowledge with like-minded people. I felt accomplished and proud to share that we are doing innovative work at ATCS and going above and beyond to serve our clients and communities.”

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the course of your career so far?

“Like many students studying engineering, I was focused on cars rather than people ­— how to make driving safe, make driving fast, and do everything to improve transportation for cars. Right out of college, I was exposed to pedestrian & bike safety studies and transit projects. I learned about big data and the socio-economic impacts of transportation. Since then, I’ve been a Multimodal Transportation Engineer. I found equity and sustainability inseparable from transportation and ways of traveling. We have the opportunity to reshape roads to be safer for children, people with disabilities, the elderly, women, Black and Brown people, and to make everyone included in our public spaces. This is the way!”

What motivates you at work?

“The current transportation system is inequitable. Transportation generates 30% of  the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions. Congestion costs about $90 billion or $1,400 per person per year. The US traffic death toll is approximately 40,000 per year, and that rate has soared during the pandemic. This is unacceptable! As transportation professionals, we are responsible for developing safe and sustainable roads. We have an opportunity to redefine our priorities. Improving mobility and accessibility is my motivator. I am not afraid of bringing new ideas to the table and discuss them beyond the scope of the work. The ATCS traffic team is always open to innovative and new ideas. We support each other to provide the best solutions for our clients and communities.”

What advice would you give to others aspiring to succeed in the A/E/C industry?

STAY CURRENT — keep up with the latest changes, technology, and developing trends in the industry. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, teach yourself new skills, and challenge the status quo.

NETWORK — show up at in-person and virtual events, both local and national! Take the lead on technical efforts.

VOLUNTEER — we are in dire need of diversity in transportation. Get involved in STEM events and inspire the next generation of engineers and planners. You can serve the community in so many ways and benefit from your professional community as well.