On his path to transportation engineering and his desire to create global positive impact through his work.Jasper Lee graduated from the Berkeley MEng program in 2021, earning a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering with a concentration in Intelligent Transportation Systems. Here, he speaks about his MEng experience, his work on local transit projects, and his motivation to connect the world through accessible transit.
How did your personal background lead you to your area of study?My family immigrated from Taiwan when I was one, and growing up, we would visit Taiwan almost every summer. I remember being amazed by how convenient and robust public transit was over there! From the number of train stations, to the expansive range I could reach via high speed rail, and to being able to use the Clipper card-equivalent to pay for snacks. In Taiwan, I was always so excited to go somewhere new every day. When I arrived back in my hometown of Fremont, CA, I would miss the freedom and convenience that was provided to me by Taipei’s amazing infrastructure. I always thought to myself: “Why can’t we have nice accessible things over here?” At this time, I didn’t quite know what a transport engineer was, but I knew that I wanted to be involved in building the same great transportation systems that made Taiwan so fun. As soon as I learned that there was a whole area of study and profession dedicated to transportation engineering, I did not hesitate to jump right into the field.
What started your focus on transportation engineering?I knew from an early age that I wanted to be involved in building transportation systems. However I did not realize there were so many industrial disciplines involved in making it happen. For example, I could not tell the difference between who would build bridges (structural engineers) or who designed the stunning visuals of stations (architects). Interestingly enough, it was not until I was watching the TV series “Parks and Recreation,” which featured a character who was a city planner, that I realized that there was a discipline solely dedicated to planning and engineering travel for the future. After more research, I ended up choosing transportation engineering as I was excited to take on the responsibility of designing systems that, if built and operated correctly, could have a positive impact for all.
Can you tell us some of the work you have done for local transit systems?In 2018, I interned for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). My boss was the head engineer of the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project in San Francisco and had gone through the majority of the design phase. My role on the project was to use the previous engineer’s designs to calculate and optimize the traffic signal cycles of all 32 intersections of the project. Using forecasted traffic volumes based on historical data, I assisted in determining the exact durations of green time and in what order each signal and direction would receive, while also making sure to save enough time for pedestrians and bicyclists to also cross the intersections safely. If you ever get stuck in traffic along Van Ness Avenue and need someone to yell at, you can (partially) blame me!
What are your professional goals?My short-term goal is to successfully deliver on projects in my project manager role at Fehr and Peers and develop client relations. While most of our studies in life focus on technical work and theory, project management is something that is difficult to find spots to practice without being in the workforce. I would like to hone my scheduling, budgeting, and client interfacing skills so I can be more effective in simply “getting things done” in the future. Long-term, I would like to make a clear positive imprint on society through being involved on large-scale projects that benefit the community. Whether it is as a project manager, engineer, or funding source, I would like to one day be able to point at various projects that I have worked on and see how my projects have impacted communities.
How does your MEng experience relate to your current role at Fehr and Peers?My MEng experience lays the foundations for my success at Fehr and Peers. The MEng program gave me opportunities to take initiative, work in teams, and become a leader. At Fehr and Peers, we promote entrepreneurial spirit and collaboration, and it is amazing to see all the innovative ideas being churned out on a daily basis from my colleagues across the country! Right now, I am managing three projects at Fehr & Peers, and the practice we received during the MEng experience in scheduling, being aware of budgets, and professionally interacting with new people has certainly helped me adjust to the role quicker.
The MEng program gave me opportunities to take initiative, work in teams, and become a leader.
What new projects you are working on?While I cannot share too much due to confidentiality reasons, I am currently working on the Google Downtown West project in San Jose, CA. The project will provide new homes (both market rate and affordable), office space, public parks and open space, as well as retail and entertainment to the city of San Jose. I am involved in redesigning the transportation system to ensure that the study area is able to handle the tremendous amount of new visits. In doing so, we work our hardest to ensure that vehicles, bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit are all being served adequately and safely, so that when the new development is finally built, everyone can have an efficient and safe means of arriving to or departing from the area.
What kind of impact do you want to have on the world?I just want to make a positive impact on the world. People all over the world are suffering due to various forms of inequality. I want to help ensure that people around the world have access to opportunities to explore their professional interests. Transportation systems help to bridge gaps in job accessibility. Within the context of transportation, I would like to build sustainable and equitable systems that minimizes the stresses incurred on individuals for simply getting somewhere that they need to go. Whether it is relieving traffic congestion for the single parent needing to pick up their kids after work, or providing safer bicycle infrastructure on the way to transit so those who cannot afford a car can have access to work, I just want to be able to remediate a big portion of every person’s life that most of the time, is seen as inconvenient.
I want to help ensure that people around the world have access to opportunities to explore their professional interests. Transportation systems help to bridge gaps in job accessibility.
What are some of your hobbies/passions?I really enjoy staying active. Whether it is going to the gym, going on a hike with friends, or playing basketball at the park, I like getting my body moving and exercising. This has definitely been an inspiration in my professional goals in helping engineer transportation systems that are user friendly for non-vehicular modes of transportation such as bicyclists or pedestrians. With climate change becoming an increasingly looming threat to society, designing systems that encourage people to be active and bike/walk/take transit to work instead of driving kills two birds with one stone: a healthy lifestyle for the individual, and a healthy lifestyle for the world! Another hobby of mine is to learn new languages. I speak two languages fluently: English and Mandarin Chinese. I spend a lot of my free time trying to pick up phrases and vocabulary in other languages, as well as practicing reading and writing their alphabets. While I cannot say I am fluent in these other languages, I do feel quite happy when I meet a native speaker and am able to share the little that I do know and learn even more from them! This passion of mine is also a huge inspiration in my professional goals, because when I say I want to bring a positive impact to this world, I really do mean impact on a global scale. I envision myself helping deliver beneficial transportation solutions across global communities, and taking the time to learn the culture, history, and issues that each unique environment presents.
Do you have any advice for budding professionals?Think about and enjoy the process, instead of just focusing on the destination. I feel like at times, people, myself included, sometimes view certain portions of their career as a means to an end. For example, we often take on particular projects with the hope of being promoted and earning a raise. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with that line of thinking, I do see that there is a ton of value in critically thinking about your actions in the present moment, and how that can be beneficial to your career development as an individual, rather than in the context of a company or economy.
Think about and enjoy the process, instead of just focusing on the destination.Connect with Jasper Lee. Edited by Ella Lawton.
Jasper Lee, MEng ‘21 (CEE): “I want to see projects I’ve worked on impact communities” was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.