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Celebrating 75 years of vision: Deb McAvoy reflects

Pete Shooner and Courtney Kessler | May 4, 2010

Celebrating 75 years of vision: Deb McAvoy reflects

Pete Shooner and Courtney Kessler | May 4, 2010

This is the seventh in a series of Russ College faculty profiles, in celebration of the Russ College's 75th anniversary (1935-2010).

With Americans spending so much time driving to work, school, soccer games then home again, we might thank the construction crew or praise the government for funding a new layer of pavement -- but rarely do we thank one group that maintains our safety on the roads. Transportation engineers like assistant professor of civil engineering Deb McAvoy conduct research to improve the conditions at construction sites, on ramps and the roads themselves.  

McAvoy received her Ph.D from Wayne State University while working as the lead research engineer for the Wayne State University Transportation Research Group. After working as an engineering consultant for 11 years, turned her focus to teaching. Searching for a rural campus with small class sizes and a growing department, McAvoy joined the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College at Ohio University in 2007, to help others understand the application of theory and processes.

She does this in her classroom through incorporating at least one real-world design experience into each course she teaches, and because of her experience in consulting, she has plenty of ideas to use as class projects.

“It’s important for students to understand what types of projects they can expect in a discipline after graduation and what their employer will expect of them,” she explains. “Knowing how to combine theories to solve a complex problem is critical for students to understand.”

Civil engineering Master’s student Steve Busam says McAvoy brings her experiences from working as a professional consulting engineer to every class she teaches.

“The real-world examples illustrate course concepts and techniques that would otherwise remain abstract,” he says.

Busam, who met McAvoy during his undergraduate civil engineering senior design course at the Russ College, also notes that McAvoy has a contagious energy and excitement for learning, teaching and research.

“Though she was not the actual instructor of the class, she was always willing to sit down with us and help us work through our problems and answer our questions for our project.

And now, McAvoy, whose research focuses specifically on both highway safety and traffic operations, has a new, state-of-the-art tool to incorporate into her research and teaching. The Russ College recently acquired a full-scale driving simulator through a National Science Foundation grant.

With more gadgets for cars come more distractions for drivers, making research on driver behavior imperative, McAvoy explains. She examines this behavior and tests procedures, techniques and devices to refocus drivers on their vehicle and the road. The simulator enables students and researchers to monitor driver behavior, performance and attention under conditions in which it would be unethical or illegal to place drivers on the road.

“Although there are several risks associated with traffic work zones, most of the risks for the motorists as well as the workers can be reduced,” McAvoy says. “Lane-width reductions, pavement rumble strips, speed display boards and enforcement can all alter the driving behaviors of motorists to reduce speed-related behaviors.”

Although McAvoy is excited about her research, she maintains that the Russ College’s best quality is its family atmosphere. “The closeness of the student body to the University and uptown really create a vibrant atmosphere.”

McAvoy’s goals for the coming years include receiving tenure at Ohio University and expanding the transportation engineering program as well as her research with the driving simulator. Ultimately, she aims to help create a nationally ranked transportation and human factors research program at the Russ College.