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Ranjana Mehta

Outstanding Recent Alumni Award, Graduate Degree, 2020
Ranjana Mehta

Professional Role

Associate Professor, Wm. Michael Barnes Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX

Education

  • M.S. Industrial and Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech, 2009
  • Ph.D. Industrial and Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech, 2011

What were some of your stand-out memories from Virginia Tech Engineering in terms of learning new concepts or skills?

I remember having to set up a lab from scratch with my advisor. This involved cleaning the lab of previous equipment, facility planning, equipment ordering, and equipment establishment. This, to me, was fundamental in setting up my own lab in my career.

What do you feel your time at Virginia Tech gave you, as you entered the workforce and as you developed your career?

Through my experiences at VT, I gained confidence in my abilities as a scientist and an educator. My experiences working with Dr. Van Aken on department activities and with the VT Graduate School gave me an insight on how departments and universities function, which I believe have been very beneficial in my growth as an academic.

What experiences as a student have you drawn upon the most in your professional career?

The training and rigor that I went through at VT ISE for my PhD work has been fundamental in shaping how I approach research. This training has also empowered me to be confident and assertive in how I seek funding for new research topics. I am also thankful to have taken strong courses that have provided the technical and grant-writing foundation for my work.

What is your career path since graduating from Virginia Tech Engineering?

After graduating with an engineering doctorate degree, I became a tenure-track assistant professor in the Departments of Kinesiology & Integrative Physiology and Cognitive & learning Sciences at Michigan Tech. Teaching non-engineers was a very unique and exciting experience - I definitely learned a lot on "translation of knowledge". I then joined the School of Public Health as a tenure-track assistant professor at Texas A&M University - where I recognized the value of developing and integrating engineered solutions for effective population health. After tenure, I have completed full circle, as I am now an associate professor in the Texas A&M Industrial & Systems Engineering department. This 360-path has made me appreciate the value of diversity in our experiences in research and teaching.

What recent achievements are you proud of?

I am very proud of leading a large multi-institution NSF funded project to develop training technologies to assist some of our nation's most valuable public servants, first responders. The project applies a team-based, multidisciplinary approach, and addresses a critical barrier of training the public safety workforce in an accessible and effective manner, and I am very proud to be working together with our team members towards securing funding for this project. In addition, last year I was awarded the Human Factors and Ergonomics WOMAN of the Year award for my contributions in the field of neuroergonomics. I started working in this research space after obtaining my PhD from VT, and I am proud to be leading some fundamental work in this area and advancing the use of neuroergonomic methods in atypical work domains (e.g., emergency response, robotics).

What do you want to contribute with the work you do? What drives you?

I want to develop effective AND equitable technologies and/or processes that support and augment humans in the work that they do. My research largely focuses on safety-critical domains of emergency response, where work risk factors can hardly be mitigated. In such work domains, a human-systems perspective is key. However, engineering solutions do not adequately capture human capabilities, limitations, and preferences. For instance - while robots can be deployed for disaster response, accompanying responder experiences may be met with challenges at the individual, team, and organizational level. I get excited when I think about how a responder's brain is firing during such interactions, and whether there are neural patterns across the responder team that can be harnessed to better understand the nature of this human-technology interaction, and how such knowledge can be leveraged to design better trainings, and/or work procedures and support aids to enable effective disaster response involving both the responders and the robot! New knowledge generation and its application to solve a key societal challenge drives me and my work.

What is the best part about being a Virginia Tech Engineering alum?

I am proud to be part of the Hokie world and am grateful for the educational, research, and leadership experiences I gained as an engineering graduate student. VT ISE is one of the best ISE programs in the country and I hope to serve to the mission of the university and the college on "UT PROSIM".

What advice do you have for Virginia Tech Engineering students? Is there anything specific you would share with them during these uncertain times of entering the workforce?

Maximize your experiences by participating in the different opportunities made available to you at VT.

When you aren’t doing amazing things professionally, what do you enjoy spending your time on?

Pre COVID, my family and I loved traveling to different places around the world (including climbing to the top of Florence's Duomo when I was seven months pregnant). I also love listening to audiobooks on politics, race, gender, and robots. And then there is Netflix!