Pacific Southwest Region 9 UTC

This Summer, my Home TURF was TREC!

Monday, August 20, 2018 - 11:35pm

By Lauren Mullarkey-Williams, USC MS GIS & Technologies, May 2020

Thanks to METRANS on the Move (this newsletter!) I learned about TURF, the Transportation Undergrad Research Fellowship, a summer fellowship opportunity at Portland State University.  I studied abroad in Athens, Greece during Spring 2018, and looked forward to receiving the newsletter each week because it kept me in the loop with what’s happening in the transportation sector. Little did I know that it would also lead me to a new home “turf” and an exciting summer in Oregon.

This summer was the first time this fellowship was offered by the Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) at Portland State University. TREC also houses the National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC), one of five U.S. Department of Transportation National University Transportation Centers. With five additional university sponsors, this program supports research, education, and technology transfer consistent with their center theme of ‘improving mobility of people and goods to build strong communities.’

I followed the simple application process, and was fortunate to receive the news that I had been selected to attend.  Faculty at Portland State University reviewed the many applications, and selected students whose research interests fit their current projects. The six students selected (all women!) came from various backgrounds and passions, including engineering, planning, and even comic book design. We were each able to bring a new and unique perspective to the projects to which we were assigned, and I learned a great deal about the many different directions my interest in transportation can take me.

This fellowship gave me the opportunity to fully immerse myself in different areas of the transportation industry, network with a wide variety of professionals and future leaders, and learn about what graduate school options may be of interest to me. On top of it all, spending the summer exploring Portland was an adventure to say the least! There’s always incredible local events going on, and the extensive public transportation system there makes the city extremely accessible.

I was incredibly interested in the wide variety of projects TREC and NITC as my background in public policy and urban planning covers many different topics. Throughout the summer fellowship, I worked as a member of two specific research teams: one focused on Transit Oriented Developments (TODs) and the other on Bike Share Equity. Both opportunities allowed me to refine my qualitative and quantitative research skills, and to learn so much from the talented faculty and staff at Portland State University.

The TOD Research project in which I participated is a longitudinal study funded by Metro (Portland's Metropolitan Planning Agency). Every few years, the research team with whom I worked conducts surveys on the travel behaviors of building residents, retail employees, and guests traveling to and from the TOD. The data collected is used to inform Metro about the impact of these developments. My job consisted of helping create a survey to be distributed by mail, and spending time in the field conducting intercept surveys to passers by.

The Bike Share Equity team is interested in understanding how different cities are implementing equity programs into their bike share systems. I supported the team by developing an online survey designed for city officials, bike share operators, and community partners nationwide. We also focused on Portland's city-owned, privately-operated bike share system, BIKETOWN, for short case studies. My co-researchers and I interviewed officials and participant's from two specific programs: Adaptive BIKETOWN which provides bicycle rentals to individuals with disabilities and BIKETOWN for All which supports reduced-cost memberships for low-income individuals. 

The surveys on which I worked have been sent out, and I am very excited to hear about the results as the team receives them.

I’ve often heard “we cannot win opportunities to which we don’t apply.” I am thankful to METRANS and the news team which brought this valuable opportunity to me, and believe even more strongly in always being open to opportunities and having the commitment to learn each and every day!

About the Author:

Lauren Mullarkey-Williams is pursuing M.S. in Geographic and Information Science and Technology at USC Spatial Studies School. She previously did Bachelors in Policy, Planning, and Development at USC and wishes to see more women in transportation industry and wants to add her name to that list. She can be reached at mullarke@usc.edu