National Institute for Advanced Transportation Technology

The National Institute for Advanced Transportation Technology at the University of Idaho is a center of excellence for transportation research, education and technology transfer in the state of Idaho, the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain regions, and in the United States.

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Leaves a Legacy of Excellence in Hands-On Learning and Transportation Research (written by Rob Patton)

 Karen Den Braven with the 2014 CSC Team and 13 Years of Awards

After 27 years with the University of Idaho, Karen Den Braven, professor of mechanical engineering, director of the National Institute of Advanced Transportation Technology (NIATT), and founding faculty advisor to the UI Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Clean Snowmobile Challenge team, is retiring.  Professor and Director Emerita Den Braven is moving to South Carolina to be closer to family.


While she is leaving the challenge of developing a cleaner, quieter, more efficient snowmobile engine, Den Braven will not be putting up the “gone snowmobiling” sign quite yet.  Den Braven is looking forward to tackling the new challenge of Director of Engineering Programs for the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics (GSSM).  In her new role as GSSM Director of Engineering Programs, Den Braven will work with South Carolina’s young engineers (accelerated 10-12 grade students), academic partners at Clemson and University of South Carolina, the state of government of South Carolina, and industry leaders in the state such as Boeing, BMW, and GE among others, with the goal of positively impacting South Carolina's economic development.


“Karen Den Braven is an exemplary faculty member.  First and foremost, she is passionate about students.  Every year she assembles a group of students for the Clean Snowmobile Challenge team, some new and some returning, and she is able to inspire them to succeed.  All you have to do is walk into the snowmobile laboratory and see the shelves of awards to know what a great job she has done,” says Larry Stauffer, College of Engineering dean. 

Indeed, at last count, Den Braven and the Clean Snowmobile Challenge team have won over 70 awards since founding the team in 2000.  The Clean Snowmobile Challenge team participates in the annual SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge hosted by Michigan Technological University's Keweenaw Research Center. Each year Den Braven works with a group of 15-20 students to reengineer a stock snowmobile to reduce emissions, noise and increase fuel efficiency.


Asked about how the snowmobile team got started Den Braven, laughs, something she does with ease and says, “In 2000 three students and I loaded up my little car and travelled to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the inaugural clean snowmobile competition (relocated to Michigan in 2003).  I had heard about the challenge and how it evolved from the controversy over allowing sports vehicles on public lands, and thought, as an expert in small engine design, there could be a great real-world opportunity for academic growth, a long-term platform for research, and also an opportunity to have a positive impact.”


During that first competition Den Braven’s students did not compete, instead they observed, took lots of notes and came back to Moscow to get to work.  2001 was the first year the UI team competed and, again, after competition they learned a great deal and returned to Moscow to fine-tune their engine improvements.

Dr Braven Belt BuckleIn 2002, Den Braven’s team not only swept the competition winning “First Place,” “Best Design,” “Best Performance,” and “Best Fuel Economy,” but they also won the coveted “King of the Hill” snowmobile hill climb award. The silver and copper belt buckle trophy (above) shines in Den Braven’s office to this day. “Eventually this [belt buckle] will be put in a UI trophy case, but I’m going to hold onto it for a while, I’m still savoring the victory,” says Den Braven.


Currently, the 2014 Clean Snowmobile Challenge team is preparing to leave for Michigan.  This year’s competition takes place March 3-8.  

Unfortunately, the competition coincides with Den Braven’s departure for South Carolina.  This will be the first time in fourteen years that Den Braven will miss the snowmobile competition but she knows the UI team will be competitive and represent the university well and likely add to their trove of awards.


Mechanical engineering professor Dan Cordon, who was the snowmobile laboratory manager before earning his doctorate at UI and has been involved with the Clean Snowmobile Challenge team since the beginning, points out that Den Braven leaves some pretty big boots to fill, “I’ve seen Karen manage academics and the snowmobile extracurricular activity of students for 14 years and she has created one of the most cohesive groups on the campus, one that includes freshmen and graduate students with very little turnover.  She understands the balance between teaching students and allowing them to fail in order for them to succeed.  The team’s success both in Michigan and after graduation where many students go on to work in the automotive and power sports industries is indicative of Karen’s success.”  Cordon will be taking the reins as primary faculty advisor for the team during this year’s competition and after Den Braven’s departure.


Den Braven’s work with engine efficiency, with over fifty publications, and her accomplishments with the Clean Snowmobile Challenge team earned her directorship of the NIATT’s Center for Clean Vehicle Technology in 2005 and in 2008 she was named Director of NIATT.


Den Braven’s impact on UI has been substantial.  Not only has she been a mentor and advisor to hundreds of students during her career, she has been instrumental in securing over $15 million dollars in grant awards since taking the helm of NIATT.  Den Braven has managed to significantly grow UI’s regional and national transportation research footprint.


As part of the regional PacTrans University Transportation Center (UTC) that includes collaborators from Oregon State University, the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, University of Washington, and Washington State University, Den Braven has led UI’s research on educating teen drivers about distracted driving, the use and development of biofuels in the Northwest, and improving rural roads and designing city road systems that better incorporate vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians and other forms of transportation.


“One of Karen’s invaluable qualities is that she is a great collaborator.  She has worked with NIATT team members, and researchers from across the nation, to bring the U.S. Department of Transportation’s highly competitive UTC program to the UI.  In addition, she continues to provide excellent leadership, support to staff, and mentoring to students in a sometimes hectic and challenging environment, another example of Karen’s positive effect,” notes Former Director of NIATT, Michael Kyte.


Den Braven’s work has brought attention to UI’s distinguished transportation research and secured the leadership role of the Tier 1 UTC known as TranLIVE (Transportation for Livability by Integrating Vehicles and the Environment).  TranLIVE is a national collaboration led by UI and includes researchers from Old Dominion University, Syracuse University, Texas Southern University, and Virginia Tech University, and is focused on developing technologies to reduce the environmental impact of the transportation system.


NIATT and TranLIVE colleague, civil engineering professor Ahmed Abdel-Rahim says that Karen will be sorely missed, “it has been a great pleasure working with Karen. I have definitely learned quite a bit from her wisdom, her dedication, and her guidance. As with all who have worked with her, I really appreciate her insight, her wit when things become a bit too serious, and more importantly her friendship.”


Professor Abdel-Rahim’s sentiments are echoed by Den Braven’s own words.  When asked what she most cherishes from her 27 years at UI (beyond the 2002 world champion silver belt buckle award) she says without hesitation, “the people, it has always been about the people. My role has been to help students, to help faculty, to make other people’s lives here easier. That is why I’ve stayed.”


“It is tough to see Karen leave but given her success at the UI as professor, mentor, researcher and director.  I am sure she will have equally as great an impact in South Carolina and we wish her all the best in her future endeavors, “says Dean Stauffer.


NIATT's Clean Snowmobile Challenge Team Is Heading to Houghton, MI for the Next Competition


2013 UI CSC Team Finishing Endurance Run

Pictured is Andrew Hooper finishing the endurance run in the 2013 competition (photo courtesy of KRC/MTU).


The team is heading out on Friday, February 28, 2014 to make the drive to Houghton. CSC 2014 Event Dates: March 3-8, 2014 at the Keweenaw Research Center in Houghton, MI. Track the teams progress


PacTrans 2013 Student of the Year
UI's Andrew Hooper Chosen from Five Northwest Universities (written by Rob Patton)


Yinhai Wang Andrew Hooper Karen Den Braven

Left to right: Yinhai Wang, PacTrans Director, Drew Hooper, and Karen Den Braven at the CUTC Awards Banquet in Washington, DC January 11, 2014.


UI mechanical engineering master’s student Andrew (“Drew”) Hooper has been selected as the 2013 PacTrans Region 10 University Transportation Center (UTC), student of the year.  PacTrans is a coalition of transportation professionals and educators representing the five northwest universities of Oregon State University, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, University of Idaho, University of Washington, and Washington State University.  PacTrans is based in Seattle at the University of Washington.  Drew was selected as the most exceptional student studying transportation within the regional UTC.  Drew’s expertise in the area of clean and efficient direct-injected two-stroke engine development was instrumental in the success of the 2013 UI Clean Snowmobile Team who won third place overall in the national challenge and collected a record number of 10 other trophies and awards. Drew’s senior design work also led to a patent on a synchronous charge trapping (SCT) two-stroke engine.  Drew recently graduated and has taken a position as a project engineer with Polaris to work on developing the next generation of clean two-stroke engines. 


Yuri MereszczakYuri Mereszczak (BSCE ’03, MSCE ’05) is currently a Senior Engineer with Kittelson & Associates, Inc. (KAI) in Boise, ID, where he has worked since graduating from the University of Idaho in 2005.  Yuri’s involvement with NIATT began in 2001 when, as an undergraduate, he was offered the opportunity to conduct transportation research with Dr. Ahmed Abdel-Rahim.  Upon receiving his BSCE, NIATT provided Yuri with a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to participate in a comprehensive, national research project on roundabouts in the US.  Through this research, Yuri formed connections with several staff at KAI, which led directly to an internship and eventually full-time employment with the firm.


Since joining KAI, Yuri has participated in a variety of traffic engineering, roadway engineering, transportation planning, and transportation research projects throughout the US.  He has contributed to projects involving transportation impact analysis, preliminary and final roadway and traffic design, signal systems evaluation, transportation planning, corridor studies, and research studies. Yuri said, “NIATT truly was the launch pad for my career in more ways than one.  During my time with NIATT I solidified my interest and passion for transportation, made connections that enabled me to gain employment with a tremendous firm, and gained knowledge and maturity that served as the springboard for my ever-evolving professional development.  I owe so much to NIATT and its faculty for the opportunities, funding, and friendship they offered to help me hit the ground running with my career."

Yuri will be the guest speaker at a combined ASCE and ITE student chapter meeting on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 6:00 pm in JEB 328.


Phil Rust

Phil Rust MEngr ’04 began working with NIATT in August 2000. He said, “The UTC grant allowed me to work with roundabouts and roundabout experts.  That experience and those contacts led me to a career of saving lives.” Phil received the 2002 NIATT Student-of-the-Year award.


He has been involved with roundabouts ever since, helping the agencies he worked for get more of them built and creating safe design requirements.  He said there is significant opposition to change, so he takes every opportunity to share the benefits of roundabouts.  He has also help other engineers spread the word, as the education chair of ITE’s roundabout committee.  Phil said, “Roundabouts save lives and keep people moving.  They’re great for communities and local businesses.  I can’t imagine a more rewarding career.”


Phil has worked for the Washington State DOT and is currently employed by Ada County Highway District.

more alumni . . .


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National Institute for Advanced Transportation Technology

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