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Myra Blanco receives international award for transportation research, leadership, work-life balance


   

Myra Blanco Myra Blanco

BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 8, 2013 – Myra Blanco, leader of the Safety and Human Factors Engineering group with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute's Center for Truck and Bus Safety, will receive the J. Cordell Breed Award for Women Leaders, to be presented at the SAE International 2013 World Congress April 16-18 in Detroit.

The award recognizes a woman active in the mobility industry who has achieved the best balance of life by outstanding performance or significant contributions in two or more of the following areas: outstanding service to her company and community; excellent leadership as a supervisor, manager, or in team environments; innovation and uniqueness in achieving corporate and personal goals; strong interpersonal skills; important engineering or technical contributions to the mobility industry; overcomes adversity; and participates in and is involved with SAE activities.

Blanco's colleagues contend she is a winner on all counts. "Myra makes a difference in her workplace, in her community, and in the field of transportation safety," said Andy Schaudt, research associate in advanced systems and applications at the transportation institute.

She learned work-life balance, without stinting either, from her mother, Alicia Rodriguez, a nurse who was raising her daughter by herself.  

As an undergraduate student in industrial engineering at the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez Campus, Blanco joined the Air Force ROTC and became the first female cadet in 10 years to pass the initiation process for their Arnold Air Society. She subsequently joined a team of all-male engineering students who built a solar car from the ground up to race in the U.S. Sunrayce 95 competition. Blanco’s team members promoted her to captain and the team finished with a 50 percent improvement over previous entries from the university.

A few years later, as a master's student in human factors engineering at Virginia Tech, Blanco volunteered at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, and was soon a project manager and principal investigator for a variety of projects. When she received her Ph.D. in 2002, she became the youngest researcher to earn the title of research scientist at the institute.

As a research scientist, Blanco develops applied research of human factors issues in transportation. She has conducted research on driver behavior when using complex in-vehicle systems, the influences of distraction and fatigue on safety, and the impact of an innovative enhanced night visibility system on pedestrian and object detection. Her current research interests include automated driving, driver response to active safety warning systems and other innovative in-vehicle systems, and driver workload assessment methods.

"Myra has participated in, and led, many notable projects that have impacted transportation policy in the U.S.," said Rich Hanowski, director of the Center for Truck and Bus Safety. "For example, in March of 2011 Myra led and completed a project to investigate safety issues regarding the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours-of-service regulations.  Similarly, she has led projects funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate various transportation safety systems including indirect visibility technologies to help truck drivers avoid blind-spot crashes." 

"She strikes the perfect balance between setting the course and obtaining input from team members," said Greg Fitch, a senior research associate who has worked with Blanco on several multi-year projects sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation. He praised her "ambition to see her employees succeed."

"Myra actively involves those that work for her in order to help realize their maximum potential," said Schaudt.

Blanco's research sponsors have also included the Federal Highway Administration, Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation and Research, Motor Coach Industries, General Motors, and Ford Motor Company. She has authored more than 60 scientific articles, technical reports, and book chapters, given and organized technical sessions and workshops, reviewed technical papers, and volunteered with student groups.

"I have the utmost respect for her. (She) faces the daily challenge of balancing family with work all the while providing dedicated service to her company, working as part of a team environment, and presenting safety findings for the mobility industry from completed research," said Kaley Zundel, event operations relationship supervisor for SAE International Education Relations.

Hanowski also praised Blanco's courage in facing personal adversity. In January of 2011, Blanco suffered deep vein thrombosis with other medical complications, which kept her bedridden for months. "Thankfully, Myra was able to overcome the condition and is now back in the office, working at her typical 110 percent," said Hanowski.

SAE International is a global association of more than 133,000 engineers and related technical experts in the aerospace, automotive, and commercial-vehicle industries. SAE International's core competencies are life-long learning and voluntary consensus standards development. The J. Cordell Breed award was established by the SAE Women Engineers.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute conducts research to save lives, time, money, and protect the environment. One of the seven university-level research institutes created by Virginia Tech to answer national challenges, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute continually advances transportation through innovation and has impacted public policy on the national and international level.