Corinna Li is a dual master’s student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), studying transportation and city planning. She was also a recipient of the distinguished Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship, which is awarded to bright thinkers and future leaders in the transportation industry. She says her passion for transportation stems from her interests in sustainability and urban mobility, particularly in developing nations.
“I was very passionate about international development [in high school],” she told Fast Forward, explaining that this is what led her to study transportation. “I thought [transportation] was really important for the fabric of a society, especially a rapidly urbanizing society in the developing world. … We see that cities [that] did transportation well could really bring people together, but those that didn’t could end up with big inequalities and separate sectors of the city.”
After finishing her undergraduate degree, Corinna had the chance to work in China as a consultant. There she helped develop the nation’s rapidly-expanding transportation network with an organization called Urban China Initiative. She also worked with the Ministry of Transport’s Research Institute. At the same time, her interest in sustainability—the notion of making transportation more efficient, less congested, and less polluting—was growing.
“It is a really important cause for me. And I think transportation could really use a lot of improvements; for example, getting people to take transit more as opposed to driving,” she said. “We have so much congestion. We spend so much of our time trying to get to places while we’re stuck in gridlock. And also the emissions, the energy use. It’s just clearly not sustainable in the long term.”
At MIT, Corinna is currently studying breakthroughs in transportation, like smartphone apps, that she says are allowing people to choose more sustainable alternatives to the private automobile.
“We’re seeing a shift away from auto dependency, and we're seeing more and more flexible options. You can take an Uber. You can ride a bike. You can share a bike through bike shares. We see a lot of public transit investment as well,” she said.
Corinna believes we are entering a revolutionary time in transportation, which will make it an exciting career option for today’s students.
“Is transportation an exciting field to go into? I might be a little bit biased, but definitely. I think, in fact, this might be the best time to get into [transportation] in the last 50 years,” she said.
Her favorite part of what she is doing is improving something that so many people rely on every day.
“I actually get to try to improve a system that’s very important, but also very badly in need of innovation,” she said.“I like it because it’s so tangible. Pretty much unless you live in a cave, unless you never leave your apartment, you’re going to use transportation at some point or quite often in your life.”
There are other perks, too, especially when she works on her research. “I also get to play with cool gadgets and toys,” she laughs.
Overall, Corinna says that transportation is something that’s not just a career to her. It’s something she truly cares about.
“I’m a really big transportation nerd. I once told someone that if I could think about transportation for 16 hours a day, that would make me the happiest. … Transportation is a really big part of my life, and I think I’ll keep doing that for a very long time.”
Check out Corinna’s video to hear more clips from her interview!