The path to success is easier to find when you’re the one making the map.
In Bob Honea’s trailblazing career as an applied geographer, he’s certainly paved the way to innovative solutions on a wide array of transportation and environmental challenges.
Honea, director of the University of Kansas Transportation Research Institute, recently received top international recognition for his career achievements in applied geography, a field that plays a major role in land development and preserving green space, while recognizing safety concerns, natural beauty and heritage, and economic opportunities as cities are planned.
During the Association of American Geographers annual conference April 13 in Seattle, Honea received the James R. Anderson Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the Applied Geography Specialty Group. The award is presented annually to an individual in recognition of his or her highly distinguished service to the profession of geography.
“I was really surprised to win,” Honea said. “This award goes to the big dogs in the field, and I figured if they were involved, I didn’t have a chance.”
Honea has been director of the Transportation Research Institute since 2006. The institute seeks to build upon the strengths of KU research efforts in transportation by fostering a cross-disciplinary inquiry into a wide spectrum of emerging transportation issues, such as prolonging life and safety of transportation infrastructure, developing advanced vehicle and fuel technologies and improving safety for inattentive and aging driver populations.
Honea started his career as a university professor and principal investigator on a number of NASA and Department of Defense grants. He went on to serve nearly 30 years as a research manager and program director at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Before coming to KU, he was as an energy industry consultant.
Early in his career, Honea played a key role in determining how to meet new demands on the power industry imposed in the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act, which required all federal government agencies to prepare comprehensive studies on the environmental impacts of a proposed project. At the time, no standards or practices existed. Honea used historical imagery to track changes to the landscape before and after development of the Tennessee Valley Authority and built models to help predict how new power plants, including the influx of employees, would impact the environment and a particular community.
“I got in the front end of that activity,” Honea said. “No one had ever built models to simulate this. We had a huge computer simulation model to do it and really did some exciting things.”
As a doctoral student at the University of Florida in the 1960s, Honea spent a year working with James Anderson, the man who is the namesake of the award Honea won earlier this month. Honea touched on that relationship in his address at the conference and credited Anderson for teaching him about land use and field observation.
For Honea, the thrill of the job now stems from providing guidance and securing funding opportunities for researchers at KU.