ICT Student Spotlight: Jonguen Baek

Jonguen Baek recently earned his Ph.D. in Transportation Engineering from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) at UIUC. He was advised by Dr. Al-Qadi. 


Baek, fourth from left, with Mr. Hao Wang and staff at the 80th AAAE Annual Conference, in New Orleans, LA, where he gave a presentation on airport pavement design as the first place winner in the second FAA Airport Design Competition in 2008. Baek greatly enjoyed this trip with Hao because their families traveled together to celebrate their accomplishment.

Since January 2005, Dr. Baek has served as a Graduate Research Assistant where he assisted with two ICT projects including “Thin Quiet Long-Lasting High Friction Surface Layer” and “Cost-Effectiveness and Performance of Overlay Systems in Illinois.”

Baek says he learned valuable experience by working on ICT research projects. He explains, “Most of all, during crack surveys and forensic investigations, I was able to observe and understand what happens in field, which no book or class can provide. These experiences turned out to be a great motivation for my research on modeling pavement fracture considering various field conditions. Also, I now realize that when a new approach is designed, engineers need to account for its cost-effectiveness as well as performance. Throughout these ICT research experiences, I’ve also learned how to manage research projects overall, which will definitely help me in the future.”

Because he has been working with ICT at ATREL since 2005, Baek has seen many changes at the lab. He is very impressed with ATREL’s facilities and environment. He says, “Currently, we do have everything needed for research, e.g., well-equipped laboratories, an efficiently operated accelerated pavement test machine, and friendly and professional staff. If only we could have a couple of vending machines here, there is no better place than ATREL for transportation research. There are so many positive changes to the lab since I visited in 2003.”

For now, Dr. Baek will remain with CEE as a post-doctoral researcher and will assist with research on warm asphalt and controlling moisture damage to pavements. After that he plans to work in academia where he can educate students to serve our society as he’s learned to at UIUC and ICT. At the same time, he wants to build his career in research. His major research interests are definitely pavement-related but not limited to that. He says, “Moreover, all innovative ideas related to transportation facilities will be my research target.”

Before attending UIUC, Baek lived his whole life in Seoul, Korea, which is one of the most crowded and largest cities in the world. So, when he came to Champaign, his first impression was, like others, that it is full of nothing except corn fields, and he was afraid he would be bored. However, during the past several years he says his impression has definitely changed. “I got used to being here and now know how to enjoy this peaceful environment. For example, wherever I look up the sky at night, I can see a bunch of beautiful stars, Jupiter, Mars, and other tiny stars I couldn’t see in bigger cities. These times reminded me of when I was an amateur astronomist and were a shot in the arm whenever I felt lonely or bad.”

Baek would like to give his appreciation to the staff, his friends, and faculty at ICT for their heart-felt support and encouragement. He adds, “Absolutely, my strongest gratitude goes to my advisor, Prof. Imad L. Al-Qadi. Thanks to all of these people, I was able to accomplish my degree in a comfortable environment.”

The photo below shows Prof. Al-Qadi’s students at Allerton Park for a retreat on a beautiful day in March 2010. Baek remembers, “We had lots of open discussion about our research and future. We could also enjoy a walk through the park, tea, lunch, and lots of laughs. After the retreat, we went back to Champaign, leaving some stressful stuff there.”