Transportation and Transformation
Simon Public Research Fellowship recipient tells her story to the Board of Trustees
- By Susan Munkres
Sammi Ibrahim won one of 5 Simon Family Public Research Fellowships in the summer of 2013. These fellowships are offered by the Office of Undergraduate Research with support from CUPS, and feature undergraduate research with a community partner. In October, she presented with her faculty mentor, Pablo Bose (Geography), and community partner, Jason Van Driesche (Local Motion), to the Board of Trustees of UVM. Susan Munkres (CUPS) facilitated the presentation.
CUPS sat down with Sammi to learn more about her work with Local Motion on the Simon Fellowship.
SM: How did you decide to apply for the Simon?
SI: Well, I was interested in doing research, so I approached my professor, Luis Vivanco about opportunities in anthropology, and I talked with Ann Kroll-Lerner in the Office of Undergraduate Research. As a freshman, there really wasn’t that much that I could do, and so I kind of put it on hold. But then he circulated a request for interns from Local Motion, and as I looked at it, I got interested. When I sat down with Jason (of Local Motion), it became clear that this would be a really good fit with the Simon. So we began mapping it all out, and it just fit right into the Simon’s structure. The Simon requires a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), and the student and the faculty member and the community partner all have to work out what their roles will be. The research project Local Motion wanted done made so much sense in this framework, that I decided to apply, even though I didn’t think I would get the fellowship as a first-year student.
SM: What was your research project?
SI: I was doing surveys around Burlington, asking people about their knowledge of different transportation modes: biking, walking, the CCTA bus, and CarShare. We were trying to learn about obstacles to diversifying mode shares in the general population. We wanted to do the surveys at the Secure Bike parking in the summer. The project was part of a collaboration of Local Motion with a bunch of different partners (note: the Chittenden Regional Planning Commission was a partner on this project, with federal funding).
SM: Were there any challenges you faced in the project?
SI: I had not done research before, and I'm a planner. You know, the experience of a typical course, where you get the syllabus on the first day, and it says when everything is due, and exactly what you are going to do, and you put it all in your planner and you know everything that is going to happen. I love that! And the research wasn’t like that at all. First, there were terrible rains in June, and we didn’t get hardly any surveys, and I started to worry that I wouldn't be able to do the research, and I'd have to give back the money, and UVM would sue me! And then the same people kept coming to the Secure Bike Parking. So I had to start surveying at the farmers’ market generally, and at the Battery Park concert series. It’s ironic, because I have terrible social anxiety, and I had to go up to strangers and ask them to take surveys! So I had to learn a lot about being flexible and changing plans in the middle - which is not how it goes in a regular class.
SM: What were your biggest surprises in doing the research?
I had thought I would just do the research and do the report and be done. I didn’t expect it to affect me personally. But I found the staff at Local Motion to be so passionate, and it really was exciting. I also hadn’t thought about change at the local level. I’m president of the Amnesty Internaitonal chapter at UVM, and I thought about change at the international, policy level. It hadn’t occurred to me that small changes, like commuting to work by bike even just twice a week would matter, if a lot of people did them.
SM: What impact did the research project have on you personally and academically?
As a geography major, we think about spaces, but I hadn’t seen transportation as important in relationship to people and places. I also didn’t think of transportation as a social justice issue. But working with Local Motion, I came to see how having a car - which most people have to do for transportation – is a huge economic as well as environmental burden. I now see biking as not just a hip, Burlington thing, but as an access issue for many people.
SM: How do you think it will affect your career path moving forward?
Based on this experience, I applied for another research grant with the Transportation Research Center, with Professor Pablo Bose, and now I’m studying refugee populations’ mobility needs. So transportation is now really at the heart of what I am doing.