UTEP Civil Engineering Student Strives to Optimize Airport Security Screening Checkpoints
Anahy Diaz | September 18, 2020
Emiliano Ruiz is the definition of hard work. As a civil engineering graduate student at The University of Texas at El Paso, Ruiz has strived to achieve success and help his community by working alongside engineering professionals in a project aimed at improving airport security checkpoints.
“Dynamic Workforce Management at a Network of Screening Facilities,” is a collaborative project funded by the Center for Accelerating Operational Efficiency (CAOE), a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence (DHS COE) that involves the provision of new technology to assist the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in creating security checkpoints that are more efficient and continue to keep air travel safe.
UTEP is a partner of the CAOE consortium led by Arizona State University (ASU). The COE network is an extended consortium of hundreds of universities conducting groundbreaking research to address homeland security challenges.
As a leading researcher of the project, Ruiz’s role is to develop a digital and detailed simulation model of screening checkpoints and their corresponding screening operations. The model serves to evaluate performance under uncertain conditions and produce virtual animations of these operations. The goal is to make the system more responsive to customer demand and provide passengers the immediate benefits of avoiding long queues and delays at checkpoints.
“What I particularly enjoy about my role as a researcher in this project is that it has expanded my career interests,” Ruiz said. “It has also allowed me to enrich my interpersonal and professional skills.”
Driven by curiosity, Ruiz initially became interested in transportation-related topics in the summer 2018, when he interned as an undergraduate student at the Center for Transportation, Environment, and Community Health (CTECH) at UTEP. There, he focused on research and innovation capable of supporting the sustainable mobility of people and goods while preserving the environment and improving community health.
Upon returning from his internship, Ruiz received a research position at UTEP’s Border Intermodal Gateway Transportation Lab (BIG Lab), under the guidance of Kelvin Cheu, Ph.D., professor of civil engineering at UTEP. In this role, the undergraduate researcher worked diligently alongside graduate and doctoral students from ASU. Although it was challenging, the support from Ruiz’s peers and mentors made the process easier.
“Our workforce in the security industry needs representations of the population it serves,” said Cheu, the principal investigator of the project at UTEP. “Getting students involved in research not only provides a career opportunity for the students, but also allows funding agencies to understand what training different academic disciplines offer to businesses; the potential of UTEP and its students.”
Ruiz graduated from the University in 2019 with a bachelor of science in civil engineering and now works at the BIG lab as a graduate researcher. Through his research contributions, Ruiz has had the opportunity to author two articles and conference papers, and has attended conferences and symposiums in Washington, D.C., Orlando, Florida, and Tempe, Arizona.
“Personally, what I hope to gain from this experience is exposure,” Ruiz said. “All under the confidence of being able to explain the importance and the impact of the work that we do at UTEP, and that I contribute directly to this work.”
Ruiz plans to pursue a career focused on transportation. Specifically, he hopes to grow his knowledge of the industry by focusing on the inclusion of people, which he says can often be misinterpreted or overshadowed by roadway infrastructure, traffic analysis, and transportation mode topics.
“What I have learned through this project has guided my undergraduate career, personal and professional opportunities,” Ruiz said. “I hope to keep learning and become a competitive candidate when the time comes for me to leave this project, UTEP, and venture into a professional career.”
Ruiz is now working on his master thesis research focused on exploring the influence of carbon footprint and health benefits in the decision making of parking locations.