Pat Mokhtarian: Mentor, TTP Leader, “Professor Emerita of UC Davis for Life”

By Jamie Knapp • J Knapp Communications

It’s hard to imagine ITS-Davis without Pat Mokhtarian. The beloved and respected Civil and Environmental Engineering professor, who has served as the Institute’s associate director for education and as founding chair and graduate advisor of the Transportation Technology and Policy (TTP) Graduate Group, retired in June.

Since 1990, when she arrived in Davis, Mokhtarian has mentored students, conducted probing and thought-provoking research, and inspired colleagues around the world.

“It’s impossible to put into words how much Pat means to ITS-Davis and to me, personally,” said friend and colleague Susan Handy, professor and chair of Environmental Science and Policy. “I started out as a post-doc with Pat 20 years ago. She made my career in so many different ways.”

Current and former students echo Handy’s sentiment, recalling fondly Mokhtarian’s notoriously tough, but rewarding, Transportation Survey Methods course, TTP 200, as one of their best classes.

“I’ll never look at a survey again without a skeptical eye – thanks to the training that Pat provided,” said alumnus Anthony Eggert, who now directs the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy.

“I’m your forever student, wherever you go,” said alumnus Sangho Choo, via video, from Seoul where he is an assistant professor in the Department of Urban Design and Planning at Hongik University.

Mokhtarian has served on 136 thesis and dissertation committees, instilling in students an appreciation for the application of rigorous quantitative methods to the study of travel behavior, her research specialty.

“My legacy is in the lives of students that I advise and teach,” Mokhtarian said. “I hope I’m helping to train them to think critically and evaluate all alternatives, not taking their own predispositions for granted. If I succeed in helping them do that, they’ll be better professionals – whether their career finds them in academia, private business or government. It’s good training for life,” she said.

Mokhtarian has further demonstrated her commitment to teaching as one of the driving forces behind the creation of the TTP Graduate Group, which she chaired for 15 years before stepping down last fall.

“I will remember her always for her leadership in building and running TTP,” said ITS-Davis Director Dan Sperling. “Her commitment and focus have elevated TTP into a premier graduate program.”

In addition to her legacy as a dedicated teacher and mentor, Mokhtarian is a highly skilled and productive researcher. She has authored or co-authored more than 160 technical reports, including more than 120 refereed journal articles. She is the founding chair of the Committee on Telecommunications and Travel Behavior (now the Committee on the Effects of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) on Travel Choices) of the Transportation Research Board. She is often quoted in the mainstream media as the “go-to” expert on telecommuting, and her entire body of research has challenged conventional wisdom in several ways: with respect to the impacts of ICT on travel more generally; attitudes toward travel itself; and the role of attitudinal self-selection in understanding the influence of land use on travel behavior.

Mokhtarian is returning to her Southern roots and will be a professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “The opportunity to be closer to family and to work at an outstanding school was a powerful combination,” she says.

Still, she adds, leaving Davis is bittersweet.

“This has been my dream job. I couldn’t have asked for a better academic position. I’ve been amazingly happy here for the last 23 years. I’m looking forward to being a professor emerita of UC Davis for life.”

We will miss you, Pat.

Photo: Pat Mokhtarian smiles as students, faculty members and alumni share their farewell speeches at her retirement celebration on June 29 at the UC Davis Beuhler Alumni and Visitors Center. In the background is one of her former students, Cynthia Chen (Ph.D., 2001). (Dorian Toy – UC Davis)