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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2007 / 01 

UPS fellowships support creative engineering research

January 26, 2007

A new $40,000 grant marks the 11th anniversary of support from the United Parcel Service (UPS) Foundation for doctoral fellowships in the Human Factors and Safety Engineering Graduate Program in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) in the College of Engineering.

The annual grants from the foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of UPS, are used primarily to support Ph.D. students. “A major benefit of the grant is that it enables our Human Factors and Safety Engineering program to attract and retain graduate students of the highest caliber,” said John Casali, the John Grado Professor in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, who successfully proposed the first UPS fellowships in 1997 and continues to serve as the program’s coordinator.

The fellowship program has supported more than 20 Ph.D. students and also has funded construction and equipping of a classroom. The current grant will provide tuition and a research stipend for one year for a student working on a dissertation in one of three areas — workplace ergonomics and safety, aircraft cockpit ergonomics, or commercial vehicle driving safety.

“The UPS doctoral fellowships are considered to be the highest academic appointment for Ph.D. student in Human Factors and Safety Engineering at Virginia Tech,” Casali said. “Competition for these positions is based on proposals written by doctoral candidates.”

“The UPS fellowship provided the perfect combination of financial support and research freedom,” said Brian Valimont, a recent UPS fellow who completed his Ph.D. in May 2006 under the advisement of Casali and is now an engineering consultant with Dorris & Associates, Inc. in Atlanta, Ga. “The sky's the limit in terms of research topics. The creativity and scientific precision of this research opportunity gave me the competitive advantage to secure the great job I have now.”

Valimont tackled a challenging topic, comparing Active Noise Reduction communications headsets to conventional headsets in an aviation flight environment. He collected data about instrument-rated pilots in an FAA-certified flight simulator in the Auditory Systems Laboratory at Virginia Tech. Valimont has presented the results of his dissertation to the international conferences of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society and the Acoustical Society of America.

Valimont’s research is in demand by the aviation community because it proved that communications capability and hearing protection enhanced with a better-performing headset offers attendant advantages in a pilot’s performance in navigation and aircraft control. “This has implications for aviation safety, particularly in noisy cockpits,” said Casali, who will present the research findings in February at the National Hearing Conservation Conference.

Established in 1951 and based in Atlanta, Ga., the UPS Foundation identifies specific areas where its backing clearly impacts social issues.

The College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college’s 5,500 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a “hands-on, minds-on” approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 1,800 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology.

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