Fengjaio Zou—Clemson University R.C. Edwards Outstanding Graduate Student Award

May 17, 2021

Fengjaio Zou is the recipient of the R.C. Edwards Outstanding Graduate Student Award given by Clemson University Division of Student Affairs. The award is  “Presented in memory of the longtime president best known for leading Clemson from an all-male military college to a major coeducational and integrated university. It is given to the best “all around” graduate student with high scholarly achievement and someone who contributes to the Clemson community through leadership in university and/or community organizations.”

Fengjiao started the Ph.D. program in Civil Engineering under my advisement in January 2019 with a four-month-old baby. As a new mother and a doctoral student, Fengjiao has demonstrated unique abilities in many aspects including: teaching, mentoring, learning, teamwork, leadership, management, and making our campus a more inclusive and supportive place.  I’m nominating Fengjiao for the RC Edwards Outstanding Graduate Student Award because she is an exemplary graduate student who goes above and beyond expected duties. She is a Rockstar!

First off, Fengjiao shows a high level of support to our department’s mission and vision. As a Civil Engineer student, Fengjiao worked very hard the past two years to make Clemson University campus more accessible. She has been working with me and collaborating with University Facilities to collect campus sidewalk data, develop a pedestrian accessibility geographic information system, and determine the best accessibility routes on campus to help identify campus improvements. In the summer of 2019, Fengjiao personally trained and managed dozens of engineering students and collected over 75% (more than 30 miles) of all the campus sidewalk data. With those data, University Facilities identified ADA projects to improve routes from accessible parking spaces to campus buildings. When I pass by those improvements, I always think of Fengjiao and how she has helped our university foster an environment of inclusivity.

Fengjiao is also a favorited TA in our department – our students love her. She was awarded the best teaching assistant from Graduate Student Government at Clemson University in 2020. Fengjiao has been a lab instructor for my 4110/6110 Roadway Geometric Design class, and she has also been TA for the 3110 Transportation Engineering class. I have been teaching those classes with TAs for over 15 years, and Fengjiao has done more than all my previous ones combined to ensure that the students in our class are successful.  Fengjiao treats all her students fairly and equally, and she works with the student until he or she understands the material. One of the most outstanding qualities about Fengjiao is her ability to help students understand “why.” Fengjiao takes extra time before each lab to explain why each step is necessary in the “real world” and shows how engineers would utilize each lab procedure to design safe and efficient roads for the public. What sets her apart from other teaching assistants is her endless passion for individual students. She does not just do her job but goes out of her way to put a smile on your face, and you can undoubtedly tell she wants you to succeed and finds enjoyment when you do.  When COVID hit, Fengjiao has adapted amazingly to the online transition and has been supportive the whole way. She has shepherded numerous students who have been struggling to maintain enthusiasm for school.  They certainly can’t say that haven’t been contacted and checked on in classes where she is the TA.

While it is not incredibly uncommon for a PhD student to achieve an overall GPR of 4.0, it is uncommon for a student to make perfect scores on all assignments in a class.  That is the ‘Fengjiao’ kind of student. Her goal is not just getting an “A”; she is eager to understand the material fully because she wants to be a good professor in the future. She has an authentic enthusiasm for learning. The high standards she sets for herself keep her at the top of her classes – she received perfect scores in the two classes I taught her. Other professors have also shared their desire to have many more students just like her.  Beyond our discipline, Fengjiao is also eager to learn data science. During the past year, she completed multiple online courses and obtained a data scientist certificate. I love how passionate Fengjiao is about learning and how she never stops challenging herself – setting goals and achieving them.

This spring, Fengjiao was a recipient of the annual James Edwin Clark Fellowship by our CE Honors and Awards Committee which came with a small stipend.  She really deserved much more, but I was very happy for her. On top of her schoolwork, Fengjiao has led multiple journal paper development efforts over the past couple of years in highway safety research, pedestrian safety under autonomous vehicles, and benefits of connected vehicles. In 2020, Fengjiao presented her research “Safety Effectiveness Evaluation of Rural Roundabout Conversions at Predominantly Skewed Intersections in South Carolina” in an invited podium session in one of our disciplines more prized conferences – the National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board (NAS TRB). She did a great job communicating with professionals at the conference and represented Clemson well. This paper also won the second prize best poster at the 3rd Annual C2M2 Fall Conference. In November 2020, Fengjiao also won first prize for presenting her autonomous vehicle safety research, “A Real-time Collision-avoidance Decision Approach for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles Interacting with Occluded Pedestrians” at the FHWA UTC C2M2 Conference. She has assisted in the development of a research proposal entitled “Contextual-aware Collision Risk Assessment Approach for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles Interacting with Vulnerable Road Users in Disadvantaged Areas”.

Fengjiao is a born leader. She serves as president of the IEEE ITSS student chapter at Clemson University. This year she took the initiative and invited Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) companies virtually to Clemson for ITS-related job hiring during COVID. She reached out on her own to the companies invited them. The event was a great success; students from our department and other engineering departments all benefited from the event. As a student leader, she never stops thinking about how the team could do better. Fengjiao attends professional organization meetings and seminars whenever possible to keep developing professionally. Last November, she successfully completed all the qualifying exams and finished the dissertation proposal to become a Ph.D. candidate. Being able to accomplish those milestones within two years, especially with the impact of COVID as a mom, Fengjiao has shown what a truly awesome graduate student she is. No matter how challenging the situation, she will always find a way to push forward. She has amazed me – balancing her family and her academic achievement.  She even participated in a childcare rotation during this past year when all the childcare centers were closed. She spent just as much time preparing for her childcare activities as she did her TA assignments. Her strong time management skills make her stand out during such a difficult time.

Congratulations Fengjiao!

Submitted by:
Dr. Jennifer Ogle