Mobility and Community Development Internship

Hey Pitt! My name is Charlie Echard, and I just finished my junior year studying Economics, Political Science, and Sociology in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. I am fortunate to be pursuing an internship through the David C. Frederick Public Service Internship Award through the University Honors College.

Both my involvement with the Scout Movement and my coursework at Pitt have instilled in me the importance of civic engagement, social justice, and sustainability. And, since I was four or five, I always had a certain affinity for matchbox cars. The relationship between my once intense love for toy cars and my present-day drive is probably not obvious, and for me, it did not become clear until about a year ago. The connection is mobility.

Across the world, (current times excepted) people are necessarily mobile in order to go about their personal and professional lives. Some take the bus, some walk, some ride a bike, and (especially where public transit isn’t available) some drive a personal vehicle. Nearly everyone’s job requires some sort of transportation infrastructure to get from point A to point B, whether it be an interstate highway, a railway, or a mere sidewalk. All of these forms of transportation infrastructure come with varying degrees of accessibility, convenience, and sustainability.

Personal cars are incredibly popular in the United States, due in large part to the convenience of owning a vehicle that can take you just about anywhere at any time of the day. However, when it comes to accessibility, the cost of owning and operating a car can be outrageously prohibitive or at the very least, not make all that much economic sense. When it comes to environmental impact, cars emit far more greenhouse gases per passenger-mile than mass transit, like the services offered by SEPTA in Southeastern Pennsylvania or Port Authority in Allegheny County. Cars also take up alot of space, creating the need for multi-lane urban streets and behemoth parking facilities.

Public transit is arguably less convenient than personal cars, but it has huge economic and environmental externalities when mindfully implemented in the context of a metropolitan area. When well-funded and made available so that people across neighborhoods and statuses can use it to get to work, buy groceries, or take their children to childcare, public transit has the potential to become the engine of an equitable economy and livable society. By providing a reliable way to get around that intentionally reaches across racially and economically segregated neighborhoods, residents’ capacity to move up the socioeconomic ladder can be significantly improved. When taking into account the environmental benefits of well-funded and maintained public transit, investment of time and energy into making public transit more accessible is a no-brainer.

With the help of the David C. Frederick Public Service Internship Award, I had originally intended to pursue an internship with a transit agency to work on issues related to access to public transportation. But, as people across the world experienced, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a slight change of course. Fortunately for me, the public health crisis did not affect my wellbeing and only meant that the programs for which I had applied were canceled or postponed indefinitely. With the help of the program advisors and the knowledge that community and economic development is such an integral part of my interest in mobility (indeed it is the reason I am so interested in mobility), the path became clear.

This summer, I will be working as remote intern at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, an organization that has been working for over 70 years to bring together public and private sector leadership to improve the quality of life in southwestern Pennsylvania. I’ll be helping with a number of projects relating to transportation, economic development, sustainability, and the region’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis is a deeply unfortunate situation, but I am so fortunate to be on the team at the Allegheny Conference as local, state, and world leaders navigate the public health and economic recovery.

It is my intention to apply my coursework and experience in the Pittsburgh region to produce meaningful work for the Allegheny Conference and bring my experience there to an academic and professional career in mobility and community development. This role at the Conference will help me to understand the partnerships that are necessary to bring meaningful, sustainable economic development to a metropolitan area like Pittsburgh. Following graduation, I intend to enroll in a graduate program to learn more about the impact mobility can have on human wellbeing, economic inclusion, and environmental stewardship. 

I cannot wait to get to work on these issues at the Conference and share my experience throughout this summer. I will be working remotely, so I am sure that I will have plenty of remote-work experiences to share with you by the end of the summer. In the case experiences like this one continue to be delivered remotely, I hope that my blog posts are helpful. See you soon!

A little more about me:

Throughout the summer and into the next school year, I will be working as a Global Ties Mentor in the Office of Cross Cultural and Leadership Development, helping incoming Pitt freshmen and transfer students adjust to life at Pitt, whether it be remote or in-person.

When I’m not completing coursework at the University of Pittsburgh, I’m usually working on planning a leadership program at the 2021 National Scout Jamboree, set to be held in Glen Jean, West Virginia in the Summer of 2021. We’ll be introducing scouts from across the country and across the world to concepts of sustainability and compassionate, world-aware leadership. It’s my hope to use my coursework from Pitt and my experience from this internship to inspire the curriculum of this brand new leadership experience.

Because of my scout background, I try my absolute best to be outside at all times, and there is nothing more healing than a walk through Frick Park followed by frisbee on Flagstaff Hill. Hopefully, we are able to do just that soon! 

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