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Better Than They Could Have Planned

Master of Regional Planning Director Catherine Lawson with scholarship winner Zach Powell. (Photo by Paul Miller)

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 5, 2016) — Two talented transportation planners of the future decided a year ago that all roads led to UAlbany. Now, Zach Powell and Jamie Konkoski not only find themselves on the educational paths they desired in the Master of Regional Planning (MRP) program, they’ll be traveling them toll-free.

They are the newest members of a fraternity of UAlbany MRP students who have been awarded full-time Advanced Institute of Transportation Educations (AITE) Transportation Educations (AITE) scholarships of $25,000 stipends from the University Transportation Research Center (UTRC), funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), with three semesters of tuition scholarship as match from the College of Arts and Sciences.

“These AITE awards are nationally prestigious, and we’ve had some outstanding students who have been part of the program,” said Catherine Lawson, associate professor and chair of the Department of Geography and Planning and director of the MPR program as well as the University’s Lewis Mumford Center. “This scholarship allows them to research deeply into the areas they really care about.”

The MRP earned additional prestige through the AITE agency employee scholarship, awarded this year to Daniel Johnson, a transportation planner with the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council. Johnson received four free semesters of tuition from the USDOT to complete his MRP at any one of the ten member institutions of UTRC. As with several AITE employee scholarship winners before him, he chose UAlbany.

What UAlbany’s MRP offers is a unique opportunity to focus on transportation planning, said Powell, a Colorado native who graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder. He noted that most transportation planning programs are placed within engineering schools, and only deal with the field as part of a broader-based engineering curriculum.

Not so, said Lawson, with the transportation students within UAlbany’s regional planning master’s program, whose rolling admission policy is still receiving applicants for this fall.

“Our transportation students receive a broad education in the planning process and specialized skills in bicycle and pedestrian planning, transit planning, experience with visualization tools, writing and communication skills — all talents highly desired by local, regional, state and federal transportation agencies and private sector consulting firms,” said Lawson.

“The transportation industry wants planners who can communicate with the public and solve complex problems that require a planning perspective,” she added. “Our graduates are ready for that.” She noted the new Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, “which will require fresh talent to take jobs at all levels of planning, including federal, state, metropolitan transportation planning, and local cities.”

Powell said he was also drawn to UAlbany by its location. “The East Coast gives you a wonderful chance to look at transportation at the highest levels and to interact with it. Here you have the Capital District Transportation Committee and the Capital District Planners Association right at your doorstep — it’s a great jumping point.” He also has found the interaction among a diverse population at UAlbany of extreme value. “We have so many international students here who can share the unique transportation needs of their countries. The conversations we have are tremendous.”

And he cited one final enticement that brought him from Colorado to UAlbany: “Dr. Lawson’s reputation.”

Powell’s was awarded by the AITE for his research on using dynamic speed limits and speed signs with interactive technologies to improve road safety and ease congestion. The stipend will also allow him to continue his internship with the state’s Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. He may also add a Geography and Planning graduate certificate in yet another related topic area.

Konkoski, who hails from a rural area in Franklin County, received her AITE award to address the problem of rural traffic fatalities, which are disproportionately high relative to overall population and which she believes could worsened with new USDOT performance measures. She will research how these new USDOT regulations will impact small cities, towns and rural areas and identify alternative measures to lessen any negative aspects.

Several past UAlbany AITE winners are now transportation planners in leading government agencies, including Maria Chau and Benjamin Fisher, both with the Environmental/Planning Team in the New York division of the Federal Highway Administration, and Alex Appel, with the USDOT National Response Program, working directly for the Secretary of Transportation.

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