UMTRI External Advisory Board

The External Advisory Board at UMTRI is composed of individuals from government, industry, and academia working in concert to create better and safer futures for those that we all serve.  The EAB is an outcome driven group that aims to solve vexing problems in equity and safety in transportation.  In this partnership, the External Advisory Board leverages their individual outside networks with the leadership and historical expertise of UMTRI research in a world of ever evolving opportunity.


UMTRI Director


Jim Sayer is Director of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).  In addition, he conducts both basic and translational research in the areas of advanced vehicle safety systems, human interaction with highly automated vehicles, connected vehicle and infrastructure technology, naturalistic driving behavior, driver distraction, and pedestrian safety.   He is an internationally recognized leader in the conduct and evaluation of field operational tests of vehicle safety systems, connected vehicle technology, and the study of naturalistic driving behavior.  He also has an appointment as Adjunct Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

In addition to his role as Director, Jim Sayer has been engaged for more than a decade in the deployment of connected technology (V2X) in both vehicles and the infrastructure. He served as the PI of the Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot Model Deployment, as well as the subsequent versions of connected deployments in the City of Ann Arbor. Jim also remains peripherally involved in studies of driver behavior with advanced vehicle technologies such as Level 2 automation.  Lastly, 25% of his salary is covered by the Associate Dean for Graduate and Professional Education where Jim works on developing online and for-credit courses for the College of Engineering in the general area of mobility.

Board members


Steve Kuciemba has nearly 40 years of executive experience in the transportation field.  He is currently the Executive Director and CEO for the Institute of Transportation Engineers. ITE is a membership organization made up of a community of more than 18,000 transportation professionals (engineers, planners, data scientists). Kuciemba provides oversight of the financial success of the organization, support for member outreach across ITE’s districts and sections, leadership support for the International Board of Directors, and general strategic guidance for the organization’s councils, committees, and chapters globally.

Prior to joining ITE, Steve served 15 years as a Senior Vice President and the National ITS/CAV Practice Leader with the global consulting firm WSP, where he helped coordinate ITS projects and resources for a wide variety of clients and disciplines, while also continuing to lend his state-of-the-practice expertise to project work. His ITS and transportation background spanned a variety of technical and policy program areas, including infrastructure related ITS deployment; connected and automated vehicle systems development; coordination of incident management and transportation management centers; travel information business models; and legislative outreach activities.

Kuciemba utilizes his diverse set of knowledge-building experiences including with ITS America, Maryland DOT, General Motors, and a private travel information company. 

Steve holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial and operations engineering from the University of Michigan.


Paul C. Ajegba, P.E. was appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as Director of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), on Jan. 1, 2019. As Director, he has led the efforts to shepherd Gov. Whitmer’s $3.5 billion in Rebuilding Michigan road bond funding and has managed the largest transportation budgets and the most aggressive program of road reinvestment in Michigan history. Under his leadership, MDOT has championed electric and autonomous vehicle innovations, work zone safety initiatives, and construction delivery efficiencies such as the bridge bundling program. Director Ajegba has guided the department’s focus on diversity and inclusion efforts and established the barrier-shattering Deputy Director – Chief Culture, Equity, and Inclusion Officer position within his leadership team. 

Director Ajegba has held significant positions during his more than 31-year career with the department, including Metro Region Engineer, University Region Engineer, and Metro Region’s Oakland Transportation Service Center Manager. During his seven years in the University Region, Ajegba oversaw the planning, design and building of several major projects, including the US-23 Flex Route, a project nominated for the America’s Transportation Award and landing among the top 12 national finalists. Other notable projects include the I-94 improvements project in Ann Arbor/Jackson, the I-96/US-23 interchange, and the I-75 freeway project. 

Director Ajegba established MDOT’s Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Transportation Diversity Recruitment Program (TDRP) in 2013, with approximately 300 students participating to date. The program is a partnership between MDOT, the Federal Highway Association and Michigan colleges and universities, offering valuable on-the-job training to minority undergraduate students pursuing degrees in engineering. The goal of TDRP is to expose underrepresented groups of college students to engineering and transportation-related career opportunities through professional development, technical work experience, networking, and income to assist with college expenses. 

Ajegba holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Prairie View A&M University and a Master’s Degree in Construction Engineering from the University of Michigan. He is a licensed professional engineer in the state of Michigan.

Ajegba is a member of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) and serves on the following boards: The Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), AASHTO Council on Public Transportation (serves as Chair), ITS America, Mcity, the University of Michigan Civil and Environmental Engineering Friends Association (serves as Board Chair), the Engineering Society of Detroit, and the Mackinac Bridge Authority.


John is currently the Director of Global Vehicle Safety Technology, Strategy, and Regulations at General Motors.   In this role, John is responsible for championing new safety technologies, product safety content, safety messaging, and safety regulatory strategies.   During his 35-year career in safety, John’s work has ranged from crashworthiness and occupant protection in crashes to the development of electronic collision avoidance systems.  He has served in executive positions in Research and Development, Electrical Engineering, and Global Vehicle Safety.

John has played a key role in planning GM’s advanced technology in the areas of active safety, driver assist, automated driving, and connected vehicle safety which has resulted in the deployment of many Active Safety features, Vehicle-to-Vehicle safety communications, Super Cruise, Rear Seat Reminder, and the Buckle-to-Drive feature to increase seat belt use.

John also leads key safety aspects of GM’s autonomous driving work around developing industry safety standards and pursuing regulatory solutions that can safely accommodate automated driving systems of the future. He holds a Bachelor of Engineering from Kettering University, and a Master of Engineering from Purdue University.  


Adrian Diaz is the Global Assistant Director, Automotive Safety Office (ASO) within the Sustainability, Environmental and Safety Engineering (SE&SE) group at Ford Motor Company. In this role, he is responsible for Global Automotive Safety and Compliance, which includes field investigations and resolution for vehicles produced by Ford brands globally, early detection of field trends, government investigations (including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Transport Canada, etc.) and compliance with both, the U.S. Safety Act & Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation (TREAD) requirements as well as their equivalent in other markets.

Before joining the ASO Team in 2020, Diaz held various positions in Product Development (PD) for nearly 15 years. His most recent role in PD was as Systems Engineering Chief Engineer responsible for developing a team in Europe and North America to lead the efficient integration of vehicle components in the dash area for various carlines. In 2017, he was Global Cross-Functional Integration Manager for the Ford Escape/Kuga leading the delivery and integration of body exterior, interior, chassis and electrical systems of the vehicle globally, including the launch of the product in three different plants around the world (North America, Europe and China). Prior to that, starting in 2015 he led Ford’s Asia Pacific PD Exterior Systems teams in Australia, China and India. Under his lead, the team was responsible for developing exterior systems components for various regional and global products.

From 2011 through 2015, Diaz was the Body Exterior Manager at Ford of Mexico, responsible for the delivery of the structural components, exterior systems, crashworthiness performance and exterior Integration of various carlines including Fusion, MKZ, Expedition and Navigator.

Earlier in his career, Diaz worked as a Safety and Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) supervisor and engineer in different Ford locations (Mexico, Brazil and Dearborn, MI) responsible for the development of the crashworthiness performance as well as other analytical attributes including aerodynamics, cooling, heat management, durability and noise & vibration for various carlines like Fiesta, Lincoln MKC among others.

Diaz joined Ford in Mexico in 2005 as a Product Development CAE Engineer after three years working for General Motors in Mexico. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering from Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico and a Master of Science in Engineering and Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Raymond Hess is Transportation Manager for the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Alongside a passionate team, he implements transportation initiatives that aim to improve safety and the livability of the community. Previously, he was Director of Planning Services at the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada and oversaw the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the greater Las Vegas Valley as well as a regional sustainable communities initiative known as Southern Nevada Strong. Prior to joining the RTC, Raymond worked for the City of Bloomington (IN), the City of Brooksville (FL) and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Ivory Coast West Africa.


Jennifer Pelky is the Senior Engineering Manager for Advanced Interior Safety at Toyota Motor North America Research and Development in Saline, MI. Ms. Pelky has spent the past 15 years in vehicle safety evaluation and is the Toyota R&D subject matter expert for Child Passenger Safety. She is a certified child passenger safety technician, which she earned in 2012 following personal difficulty with properly installing a car seat for her then newborn son. Her passion for child passenger safety has grown into leadership and advocacy with positions on the National Child Passenger Safety Board, the Manufacturers Alliance for Child Passenger Safety, the Society of Automotive Engineers Children’s Restraint Systems Committee, and the Safe Kids Children in Autonomous Vehicles Consortium, in addition to serving as a national spokesperson for Buckle Up for Life. She is also the co-creator of Toyota for Families, a digital toolkit supporting proper child seat installation. Ms. Pelky holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. For recreation, she is an aspiring aerialist and recently started learning to play ice hockey.


Monali Shah is a strategic business executive for the public sector at Google. She leads the creation of mobility, sustainability and equity solutions leveraging Google Cloud’s AI capabilities to address the needs of public sector agencies. She is the vice chair of the board of directors for ITS America and serves on DOE’s Smart Mobility Executive Advisory Board. Ms. Shah previously served as the director of intelligent transportation at HERE Technologies and led product innovation at Nokia across many areas including connected and automated driving, traffic management, outdoor adventure. Ms. Shah has a degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Michigan and holds an MBA from the University of Chicago. 


Dr. Smith is a lifespan developmental and experimental psychologist. Her research focuses on age- and health-related changes in subjective well-being, self-related beliefs, and cognition in midlife and old age and the effects of early-life experiences on late-life outcomes. She combines experimental laboratory studies with survey research to investigate questions about profiles of healthy aging and life quality in midlife, the young old, and the oldest-old. She is a Co-PI of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and PI of a project on experienced well-being in midlife and old age. She teaches courses on the psychology of aging, lifespan cognition, and theories of development across the lifespan.


Dr. C. Y. David Yang is the President and the Executive Director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Dr. Yang has co-authored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, conference papers, and research reports on subjects related to vehicle technologies and automation, traffic safety, operations, and planning. An ITE Journal article he co-authored won Institute of Transportation Engineers’ 2015 Traffic Engineering Council Best Paper Award. He is an associate editor for the Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems: Technology, Planning, and Operations and a member of the editorial board for the International Journal of Transportation Science and Technology. In addition, Dr. Yang serves on the Transportation Research Board’s Committee on Transitioning Evidence-Based Research into Practice and Research and Technology Coordinating Committee. He is also an advisory board member for a number of university transportation research centers.

Dr. Yang attended Purdue University and received his Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in the field of civil engineering. In 2018, he was honored with the Civil Engineering Alumni Achievement Award from Purdue University.


Xi Jessie Yang is an Associate Professor in the Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering. She joined the faculty in 2016 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT.  She earned a PhD (2014) and a MEng (2009) in Human Factors Engineering and a BEng from Electrical and Electronic Engineering (2006), all from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Dr. Yang’s research is focused on the interactions between human-human, human-autonomy and human-robot. She wants to understand the underlying mechanisms governing the interactions and to propose design solutions facilitating such interactions. Dr. Yang has been publishing in human factors, engineering design and HRI venues.