Rachael Thompson Panik

Degree Program:
PhD, Civil Engineering
Fort Payne, Alabama

Rachael Thompson Panik began her PhD in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department in Fall 2020. Rachael grew up in rural Alabama, but she was inspired to study cities after visiting Japan as a student ambassador. She left her hometown to attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she studied civil engineering and Japanese. While at UAB, she  was awarded a Critical Languages Scholarship to Japan, allowing her to spend more time learning about Japanese language, culture, and transportation systems. Volunteering locally and studying abroad helped broaden her interests, compelling her to pursue a Masters in City and Regional Planning at Clemson University.

As a practicing planner and engineer, she put her education and skillset to work, planning and analyzing transportation systems for communities all over the U.S., including Charleston, SC, Austin, TX, Birmingham, AL. This work clarified for Rachael transportation inequities built into our systems, especially for people biking and walking. She saw that their risk of harm outstripped other travelers. Their risk of injury and death during crashes is higher than most other modes, yet people biking and walking are often treated as unimportant travelers, often not worth the expense of well-designed infrastructure. Rachael’s research works to reshape that narrative. She studies vulnerable road user safety and mobility alongside her advisor, Dr. Kari Watkins.