Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
Employee Spotlight
Shokoufeh Moghadam

Employee Spotlight on Shokoufeh Moghadam
by  Maria Raptis
Issue Date: 06/2009

An Interdisciplinary Kind of Engineer: “There is more than engineering in me.”

Since the beginning of history, academic rifts have existed between different schools of thought and disciplines: science and religion or philosophy and science, to name two. Caltrans District 7 is fortunate to have one person eager to share how she has embraced both science and humanity. She is an engineer whose life lessons have given her reasons to believe that there is a definite connectivity between engineering and psychology.

Shokoufeh Moghadam, an electrical engineer with District 7 Office Engineer-Project Plans, Specifications & Estimate (PS&E) Unit, Division of Construction, who has been with Caltrans since 1999, holds that the disciplines of engineering and psychology can and do complement each other.

“How so?” you may ask; how can two disciplines at total opposite ends of the spectrum relate to one another? As a teacher tries to explain a difficult concept, she asks: what is the most versatile engineering design in the world and which parts of the body have the strongest electromagnetic field?

“Humans are the most versatile engineering design. Among all creatures, only humans possess the gift of speech to express ourselves intellectually, emotionally, artistically, and we have freedom to make choices,” she says. “The human heart has the strongest electromagnetic field and the human hand’s 25 joints gives it versatility to perform 58 different movements!”

Moghadam’s point is that the human body is a complex and complicated system with multiple, interrelated sub-systems constantly communicating with each other. (This sounds a bit like the premise of the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) network, yes?)

“Human systems are well-engineered,” she states. “The nervous system is a perfect example of a complete electrical, information and computer network system: both have a power source, voltage, current, resistors, capacitors and inductors.” The brain’s eight information centers, she explains, are computer network systems and hubs similar to Local Area Networks (LAN), Wide Area Networks (WAN), Global and Satellite Network systems, which are part of her daily job at Caltrans District 7 as she is responsible for reviewing the electrical portion of every project, including many of the ITS components on the freeway system.

“These systems, both human and electrical, transmit, receive, process, translate and exchange information and facilitate communications between our body and the world around us in order to stay safe, secure, healthy and functional,” says Moghadan.

She knows this because in addition to receiving a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in electrical engineering (Purdue University), she also studied bio-medical engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and later received another BS in psychology. During her bio-medical internship, she worked with new innovations of pacemakers in open-heart surgery, computer and image processing and participated in research developing an artificial limb in the early days of robotic/prosthetic technology.

Shokoufeh was only in her mid-20’s when she realized the correlation between engineering and human emotions. Her observations, experiences and curiosities, she says, led her to question the emotional aspects of patients and encouraged her to pursue interdisciplinary studies in engineering and psychology.

“I was working on an artificial hand for a woman in a test group who lost her left hand in an accident. Week after week she would come to the lab so engineers could adjust the voltage level for the electrical circuitry of the artificial hand. I asked what motivated her to drive 100 miles every week in the snow for fittings and testing. She replied, ‘I can’t wait to see my wedding ring on my finger.’”

So, how does this relate to her work at Caltrans nearly thirty-three years later?

She explains that engineering encompasses systems of the ‘outside world’ with endless possibilities and limited probabilities and where output is the direct results of input. Or, as computer engineers call it: ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ Engineers use their knowledge, talents, intellects and skills to improve life and make it safer, easier and more often than not, more practical, she says.

The same tools may apply to an individual, she says.

“Psychology is a study of human behavior and choices, where the human being is the system and behavior is the output. Psychology helps the individual to improve choices and communicate verbally and non-verbally. A person’s output is a direct result of what goes in to impact the body, mind, heart and spirit,” she says.

“At Caltrans, electrical engineers design freeway lighting, connector metering, ramp metering, changeable message signs and closed circuit television (CCTV) for safety and information that motorists need. New technology and wireless communication systems provide more secure and informative freeways. As a result, the motoring public has more choices while using the freeway system, as we have given them alternate routes that may save time and information on alternate travel times which ultimately help to improve the quality of life.”

Her supervisor, Efren Ancheta, senior transportation engineer who oversees the OE-PS&E Unit, says that Moghadan’s interpersonal skills are admired by her peers and co-workers. “When asked, she gives good advise to co-workers for personal and professional matters. I admire her attention to the job. She is highly focused on every task and embraces each assignment with willingness and commitment. Personally, she is a good communicator and contributes to helping our unit meet its goals. Professionally, she is highly skilled at delivering projects on time,” says Ancheta.

“From every place I’ve worked, I’ve taken with me lessons that have taught me that we are all more than what we think. We need two wings to fly; similarly, we need heart and mind, intellect and feelings, modern technology and common sense. We must establish a balance between them all and allow ourselves to fly and learn that we are more than engineers,” she says. “There is more in me than a simple engineer!”