At first, it was just another paper that Edna Cruz, a fourth-year student, did not want to write. Urban and regional planning Professor Richard Willson had asked her to write a research paper for a national conference. She knew it was a great opportunity to showcase her work in front of a national assembly of student and professional urban planners, but she also did not feel like working throughout summer vacation.
Before long, she had another email from Willson, saying that a second professor was recommending she submit the paper to the conference — an honor, Cruz says, that she never expected.
Their enthusiastic endorsements convinced her to begin her research and write the paper. Her project, which is based on a case study she conducted in Pomona, identifies areas of high demand for bicycle transportation in low-income communities.
“Edna completed an interesting project in my planning for infrastructure class that I thought would have potential for further development under Dr. Willson’s mentorship,” says URP Professor Gwen Urey, who recommended Cruz submit her work to the Transportation Research Board. “With her project, she also ‘pulled away from the pack,’ revealing potential that had not been so obvious before.”
While working on the paper last summer, Cruz also balanced taking care of her 5-year-old son and interning part time at LA Metro. She credits her mother, who watched her son, and Willson, who guided her throughout the writing process, for helping her complete the project on time for review.
In January, Cruz was selected to participate in the 2011-12 TRB Minority Student Fellowship Program, which selects minority students from minority-serving institutions to present research papers at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
“It is both an honor and a challenge,” Willson says. “It is an honor because she is part of a small group of students from minority-serving institutions across the country honored by TRB. The challenge is that the student is required to undertake independent research, prepare a research paper and respond to peer review comments.”
Cruz says she was nervous at the conference, held Jan. 22 to 26, but also excited about meeting people and presenting her project, which was based on her paper “Evaluating Demand for Bicycle Facilities in Community-based Bicycle Planning.”
“A lot of people were really surprised with me because a lot of the people there were graduate students and I am an undergrad,” she says. “The whole experience was really exciting, and I got to be around people who were in my major and area of focus.”
Before the paper, bicycling was a recreational activity for Cruz. The research and writing process, however, inspired her to become an advocate for low-income communities that need access to more bike lanes or bicycle-friendly roadways. After the conference, Cruz also presented at the Undergraduate Research Conference at Mt. SAC and sent her findings to Daryl Grigsby, the public works director of the city of Pomona. A local firm also contacted Cruz about her research.
“The whole reason why I did the paper was because I started writing papers about using bicycles, and I was mostly interested in doing community outreach,” she says. “But the more that I did the paper, the more I am learning about it. I got interested in it and doing community outreach within the lower income communities.”
With her additional knowledge about bicycle planning, Cruz plans to expand her paper for her senior project and attend graduate school after commencement in June.
“I’m going to go to graduate school,” she says. “I’m volunteering for CicLAvia in Pomona, and I’ll be getting involved in the bicycle community a lot more.”
Cruz is now the Community Transportation Advocate for Orange County Sustainability Collaborative, focusing on creating a more sustainable community for Orange County residents. She is also interning at Arellano Associates, where she specializes in public outreach and communications focused on urban planning, public infrastructure and transportation programs in Southern California.