Student-Led UCSC Transportation Course Seeks Engagement with Santa Cruz Community

Intro by Esther Kim

This guest post is co-authored by Melissa Ott and Alex Hoffman. As two UC Santa Cruz undergraduate students, they have taken on transportation projects to empower and educate people in the Santa Cruz community. Melissa Ott also presented an initiative at Civinomicon 2013 which you can view here.


alexandmelissaM –  I’m Melissa, a fourth year Literature student at UC Santa Cruz and a Santa Cruz community bicycle advocate inspired by the power of civic engagement to connect more young people with their communities. As a UCSC student who is also part of the community surrounding my university, I see a great need to engage more students with the programs happening off-campus in order to provide real-life experiences for students.

A –  And my name is Alex Hoffman, a third year physics student here at UC Santa Cruz and an avid active transportation proponent looking to get more people in the larger Santa Cruz area out of their cars, off their butts and instead, moving themselves via more sustainable forms of transportation! I couldn’t agree more with Melissa, there currently exists a division between the local community and that of the student population in Santa Cruz which undeniably facilitates this great need of engaging students Melissa is talking about. That said, I’m excited to be partnering with Melissa to co-teach a class on campus through Kresge College this upcoming winter quarter focusing on involving students within their community through civic engagement projects aimed at understanding and affecting local transportation!

Santa Cruz is home to some of the best cycling and hiking in the country and so it doesn’t take much once people open up to the idea of more active modes of transit to really appreciate this place and all it has to offer. The groundwork is laid – we live in a beautiful place, have a fantastically, friendly and accessible biking community and a population of environmentally minded citizens – now we just need to put the pieces together and build upon it.

M –  One of the first times I truly felt part of the Santa Cruz community was my first Bike Party last spring. There’s nothing quite like riding alongside other Santa Cruz residents and screaming “Bike Party!” at the top of my lungs. It was my third year at UC Santa Cruz, and though I’d been deeply engaged with sustainability work on campus, I hadn’t spent much time getting to know Santa Cruz as a community beyond going places like the store, the movies, or the beach. But going places in a town I call home 9 months out of the year and feeling part of the community of that town are different things. It wasn’t until that first Bike Party that something shifted and suddenly the community in Santa Cruz became my community, too.

A –  You talking about Bike Party (which may I mention is every second Friday at the Bike Church!) makes me realize how biking really opened up my eyes to our community too! I’ve worked in town at various eateries since I was a freshman but it wasn’t until I started forgoing bus rides and biking everywhere that I started to feel more or less like a local. I made non-student friends out of coworkers and inevitably found myself navigating the streets of Santa Cruz with my bike en route to places I would have never ventured to solely as a student. Biking around town required me to become more aware of my surroundings and allowed me to cast aside the sometimes myopic perspective of those of us that rarely meander from the heavily travelled path between campus and downtown.

Bike Prom

M –  Unfortunately, many students who attend UC Santa Cruz will never experience that shift from “the Santa Cruz community” to “my community,” and many will move away from Santa Cruz after graduating and never look back. Many of these students never get an off-campus internship while at UCSC, and for them, Santa Cruz is a temporary home, somewhere to study, party, and go to the beach without giving thought to the people, ecosystems, community, or struggles around them. I certainly am not speaking about all UC Santa Cruz students, but I think that many students would express that they live in Santa Cruz but that they are not part of the off-campus community or know about issues facing the community. To me, that’s a missed opportunity for both students and the Santa Cruz community. Even if students aren’t planning on living in Santa Cruz after they graduate, they can still gain real-life experience from participating in off-campus organizations and they can broaden their network of friends and colleagues. When students are truly engaged in off-campus organizations, they can help those organizations by bringing new ideas and working as a link between off-campus work and the community at UC Santa Cruz. Creating bridges between the two communities helps create more opportunity for successful programs and gets more students engaging with valuable work. So the question is, though, how do we do that?

A –  Well, I’m excited to answer that question for everyone involved in our class because getting involved with off-campus organizations through a class designed to bridge that gap is one way to do it – which is precisely what this course intends to do!

M –  With a topic like sustainable transportation, we’re providing students with opportunities to think about their own lives and experiences in relationship to the community around them and the environment we all share. Everyone makes a choice each day related to transportation, so it’s an accessible topic for anyone. The purpose of the class is to examine the current transportation system we have and the ways it can be improved, and part of this is to improve people’s experiences as they travel in their community. Since we’re talking about civic engagement and our course is about transportation, it’s interesting to note that in one of the books we’ll be reading in the class, Walkable City, author Jeff Speck describes that the longer someone’s commute time is from work to home, the less civically engaged they are likely to be, due to lack of time and the distance of their home from central places in town. Our class will examine how the way we’ve designed our cities, communities, and main methods of travel impact the way people engage with their communities. Not only will our course directly engage students with the community on a variety of projects, but they will hopefully take these ideas and help to give voice to the importance of choosing sustainable transportation methods and living car-free.

A –  And of course it goes without saying that if, as a community member, student or otherwise, you are interesting in visiting our class please let us know! We are trying to foster community-wide discussion regarding transportation and therefore want to engage the community affected by the very transportation systems in question.  We want to bring the community to the class as much as we want to bring the class to the community so please feel free to get involved! At the very least, keep an eye on the Civinomics website for initiatives launched by the Kresge course this winter quarter.

M & A   Thanks for taking the time to read about our project and thank you to the Civinomics team for all their hard work and consideration.

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