News | USC's Zoey Li Wins WTS-LA Build Your Dreams Graduate Scholarship

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by Namitha Nixon, USC, Business of Cinematic Arts 2024

"Zoey joined the USC MSCE program in the spring of 2020.  She unexpectedly had to navigate three very strange pandemic semesters but stayed focused and made excellent progress in her graduate program despite the world turning upside down around her.  She is a joy to work with, and one of the most conscientious people I know.  She is quick to ask questions and is a self-starter.  I work closely with all of our students, but she was never at sea during her time at USC.  She is always focused on getting the current step executed successfully and making the best possible decision about the next step. "

-- Zoey Li’s Academic Advisor, USC Professor and Director of the Transportation Engineering graduate program in the USC Viterbi School’s Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Dr. James Moore


Zoey Li, Master of Civil Engineering-Transportation Engineering, Viterbi, USC


The WTS-LA Chapter Board of Directors has selected Zhaoyang (Zoey) Li as the winner of the $5,000 Build Your Dreams Graduate Scholarship for her excellence in her studies and pursuit of the field of transportation. This distinguished scholarship is awarded to successful, driven, and passionate women entering the transportation industry. Zoey expects to complete her Master of Science, Civil Engineering-Transportation Engineering degree from the University of Southern California (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering this winter.


Zoey was deeply touched by and grateful for the award. “WTS scholarships are such an honor,” she notes.  “I have been inspired by the feature articles of the previous WTS-LA scholarship recipients and am deeply thankful for the WTS-LA Chapter for selecting me as a scholarship recipient and allowing me to join their ranks.  This award encourages me to further improve myself and to contribute to the field.  I would like to also thank BYD for the sponsorship and Ms. Jenny Jing, Manager of SkyRail & SkyShuttle at BYD for her support. I've been impressed with the efforts of BYD in the Electrical Vehicle industry and I am inspired by the BYD - Build Your Dreams Graduate Scholarship in how it supports women’s career development in the transportation sector.  This scholarship will help to fund both my educational and professional pursuits and will also help me better connect with peers and professionals, inspire me to become even more involved in the WTS-LA programs and contribute further to the industry.”


Zoey’s fascination for transportation began as a child while witnessing her father’s passion as a transportation engineer. Her experiences growing shaped her interests and helped her to select a specialization in system engineering in transportation designs and operations. Following in the footsteps of her father, Zoey plans to become a professional in transportation engineering and planning, specifically as a transportation researcher, analyst, modeler, or planner. Transportation is a broad concept that involves various possibilities of the movement of people and goods,” she explains.  “No matter how well the internet and virtual technologies are developed and adopted, physical movement and connections to the living environment are necessary to every individual. I also believe transportation will play an increasingly important role in building a harmonious community and in connecting people with services and opportunities. Figuring out what the existing mobility pattern is right now is important and necessary so people in different related fields may understand issues in current systems and communities and think of possible solutions. For example, I’ve been interested in understanding the changes in mobility patterns in rush hours during the pandemic and how the changes could enlighten traffic and land use planners, policymakers, employers, and others, and specifically with the trend of remote work. I’ve been always fascinated by what transportation and travel patterns knowledge could do to further social equity.  I hope that I can be one of the people who contribute their knowledge, skills, and passions to providing ideas to improve what we are living now and in the future.”


While at USC, Zoey has contributed as a student worker to the USC METRANS Transportation Consortium where has served on a variety of different teams under the supervision of Associate Director Dr. Victoria Deguzman. During her time at USC, she has also had the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant and research assistant in several different departments on campus. Beginning in spring of 2021, and continuing to today, Zoey has interned in Facilities Engineering at Foothill Transit where she assists in developing the scope of work for construction projects and the procurement process with bidding and site visits. "I am especially thankful for the valuable guidance and supervision from Mr. Vincent Sauceda, the Construction Project Manager at Foothill Transit, who also recommended me for this scholarship application," Zoey mentions. "I also want to express my thanks to Ms. Sharlane Bailey, the Director of Facilities at Foothill Transit, for the encouragement and support she provided me. I'm inspired by her efforts as a female leader in the engineering industry." After graduating, Zoey is looking forward to joining the transportation workforce, “I hope that I can contribute to the transportation planning industry with the knowledge and skill I have obtained so far, and to help to create a sustainable and efficient transportation system.”


Zoey is an active member of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) at USC, an organization focused on the interdisciplinary nature of Transportation Engineering with hopes of fostering discussion related to current transportation issues. She is also a member of the Transportation Research Board (TRB), a division of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that seeks to provide leadership in transportation improvements and innovation through trusted and evidence-based information exchange, research, and advice. 


Zoey asked that she be able to share her gratitude for two specific people who have been instrumental in her success at USC.  “My study at USC was so fulfilling and I am thankful for the support I’ve been provided during this experience. There have been many who have supported me, but there are two people who I really need to credit for my achievements: my academic advisor Dr. James Moore, and the Associate Director of Education and Professional Development at METRANS Transportation Consortium, Dr. Victoria Deguzman.

Dr. James Moore always and tirelessly contributes his vast knowledge and experience to students’ success and has helped me on so many things – everything from my class selection, my academic and career path preparation, to making lasting connections with organizations and professionals, and more. I am so fortunate to have Dr. Moore as my academic advisor and cannot thank him enough.


My connection with the other important person to me, Dr. Victoria Deguzman, started from an on-campus career fair she held in February 2020. This was during my first few weeks of coming to the US and to USC and Dr. Deguzman approached me at the fair, noticing I was a bit overwhelmed, and encouraged and enabled me to participate fully in the event. She and I met further in the following weeks, and I was thrilled when she offered the opportunity to work for METRANS as a student staff. I have benefited so much from all of Dr. Deguzman’s advice and her METRANS programming, giving me and others valuable connections to the professionals and researchers in the transportation field I never would have been able to establish on my own.  She has also inspired and empowered me to, as she says, “always be on,” - to actively seek opportunities and reach out to people. I’m continually impressed by the tireless efforts of Dr. Deguzman in engaging students in transportation and promoting opportunities.  She has inspired me to do the same, and to pay it forward by helping students and others who are seeking opportunities like me.”


As an international student, Zoey shared she needed to overcome challenges to adapt to a new environment and to get to where she is. “I would like to encourage international students like me to be brave and confident, to ask questions and make connections, and to embrace the difficulties and uncertainties,” she shares.


Outside of her professional development, Zoey enjoys reading, painting, and swimming. She is also infatuated with Minecraft and loves to build structures with different materials. 


“Zoey is so deserving of this award and is a fine example of all that WTS and this award stand for,” shared Dr. Deguzman. “I could not be more proud of her, and know the sky will be the limit for her and her future.”


About the Author

Namitha Nixon is an undergraduate sophomore at the University of Southern California studying the Business of Cinematic Arts and a student writer for the METRANS newsletter. Outside of classes, she serves as the VP of Career Development for the Marshall Entertainment Association and the VP of Administration for the Marshall Women’s Leadership Board.