Laura Sandt

Laura Sandt is the associate director of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center and a senior research associate within the UNC Highway Safety Research Center. Her research focuses on pedestrian and bicycle safety program development and evaluation.

Laura Sandt portrait on campus.
June 7th, 2017

When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Describe your research in five words.

“Keeping cyclists and pedestrians safe.”

I wanted to be a novelist, and I actually majored in English as an undergraduate. Now, I put my passion for writing to use in drafting research proposals and reports!

Share the pivotal moment that helped you choose research as a career path.

During my senior year of college, I worked as a technical writer for a transportation safety research group at Texas A&M, helping edit their manuscripts prior to journal submission. I was really fascinated by issues like how roadway design could be improved to save lives. My boss at the time, Kay Fitzpatrick, pulled me aside one day and told me that she saw real potential in me to have a career in highway safety. She encouraged me to apply to transportation planning master’s degree programs. She really helped set me on the path that I’m on and continues to be a mentor to me to this day.

Sandt poses with her husband, son, and daughter for a family photo on a lake shore

Sandt poses with her husband, son, and daughter during a fun family photoshoot

What’s an interesting thing that’s happened during your research?

Some of the traffic safety research that I’ve been a part of has involved field data collection, which isn’t always exciting at the time but can be funny looking back. As a student, I spent an entire summer sitting in a van with a team of international students, listening to Michael Jackson while we counted cars running red lights and gathered data on driver speeds. Another project had me out collecting surveys from truck drivers at gas stations while they fueled up. Most recently, I’ve been involved with an effort where we have been observing driver interactions with pedestrians at crosswalks. I can say that the longer you sit and observe people on the side of the road, the more strange characters and things you will see.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming female researchers in your field?

The field of traffic safety really does need more female perspective and leadership, and there are many ways to get involved. Join the Women’s Transportation Seminar and the Transportation Research Board and take advantage of the network they offer. If you get an invitation to chair a committee, speak at a conference, teach a workshop — whatever it may be — say “yes.” Don’t doubt your qualifications for the job. Rise to the challenge and recognize that you will have something special to contribute.

UNC Research is proud of every scientist on this campus, but we are especially excited to promote our female researchers in 2017. Each week this year, we will publish a short Q&A feature on one of them — whether she is an undergrad, PhD candidate, or full professor. Please click here to make a recommendation.