No Barriers to Research

Associate Professor of Civil and Urban Engineering Monica Menendez focuses on multimodal transportation networks. She is also leading CITIES, a new interdisciplinary research center dedicated to advancing urban science and promoting cutting-edge research in urban networks. She talks about the impact that working with expert faculty across disciplines is having on her work.

I first came to NYU Abu Dhabi in 2016 for a symposium, and from the moment I arrived I loved the environment. People from across each of the four divisions work together and that promotes research in a way that is unheard of in many other places. 

Thus, two years later, I was very excited about the opportunity to actually become part of the faculty at this university. Both me and my husband are engineers and we’ve both found it’s the perfect place for us to do our individual research.

My particular focus is on mobility, an intrinsic component of cities. The things I’m looking at have a global significance, but being here in the Middle East also brings a great opportunity to explore potential solutions for this region. There’s the chance to think about how transportation networks could be created from scratch and how they can evolve over time. If you look at Abu Dhabi and other cities in the Emirates they’re fairly new, growing and changing at a relatively fast pace. To work with and create alternatives for the city you’re based in means you really have the chance to make a difference. Coming from Europe, where cities are long established and most of the changes are marginal, Abu Dhabi offers the opportunity to really change the future.

Because of the highly interdisciplinary way the CITIES center is set up, I get to talk to economists about the effects of transportation on an economic level, and to sociologists about the impacts of mobility on a societal level; I can have conversations like these and others because I get to see connections between my work and other professors’ expertise that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. 

It takes imagination to solve problems and come up with creative solutions. Whether around sustainability or humanitarian goals, the creation of technology in the face of environmental and energy constraints, factoring in the complexity of societal needs requires imagination. This is engineering at NYU Abu Dhabi.

With design and innovation integrated into every part of the curriculum, and a global perspective and breadth of disciplines included in our research; whether local or global, micro or macro, engineers at NYU Abu Dhabi are coming up with creative, disruptive, distinctive and imaginative ways to address the challenges of our world.

There are no barriers across disciplines within the NYU Abu Dhabi engineering division, and that means often you’re sitting next to a person working on something completely different to you. We have amazing brainstorming sessions and there’s incredible potential for collaboration. The whole point of the CITIES center is to do the same but beyond the engineering division: we are trying to capture and understand the many interdependencies that are sometimes very visible but sometimes also hidden within the life of a city. My specific work is related to mobility, but CITIES is much more than that. We are bringing diverse conversations into one place to have holistic discussions about urban networks. 

I'm able to bring something to the table I couldn't before.

For me, NYU Abu Dhabi has proved to be a collegial environment. It’s very research focused but also has a strong emphasis on excellent teaching and education. This is good because you can make sure that the few courses you have, you can deliver to a high quality. And the students are of the highest caliber so it’s easy to do so. 

Most of all, it’s good to be in a region that values innovation and in an academic environment that supports it. There’s a lot of respect for the research I’m doing and for the time and effort it takes. I’m now looking at mobility with many different questions, and leading CITIES is giving me a more holistic view of urban challenges. I’m able to bring something to the table I couldn’t bring before and that’s broadening my research. 


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