Student Spotlight: Frank Alarcon
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Frank Alarcon is a Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, where his focus is on sustainable transportation and roadway safety research. Frank is originally from Marin County, California, and completed his undergraduate studies in 2013 in political science and human rights at the University of Chicago. After college, Frank served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador, where he carried out various community development-related projects in rural communities. Franks proudest accomplishments from my Peace Corps service include helping a community member realize her longtime dream of opening a gourmet cafe, and teaching nutrition and sexual education to teens.

After completing his Peace Corps service in 2015, Frank moved to the Twin Cities because it seemed like a place that would fit his values and commitment to civic engagement. While working for a local software company, Frank began volunteering with his neighborhood association in South Minneapolis. This led him to the epiphany that urban planning was the perfect profession for him. “Urban planning melds my long-held interests in public service, economic development, social justice and sustainability,” shares Frank.

Frank began his graduate studies in planning shortly thereafter. In May 2017, Frank began a planning internship with Ramsey County’s Community and Economic Development Department, and expects to graduate from the Humphrey School in May 2018.

Here’s more about Frank:

Q: Which ACSP member school do you attend?
A: Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

Q: What specialty are you studying?
A: Transportation Planning

Q: Why did you select your particular specialty?
A: Transportation figures prominently for every progressive goal, such as equity, sustainability, and public health. Also, I live a car-free lifestyle, so learning the nuances of sustainable transportation planning resonates with me on a personal level.

Q: Do you have a current job or internship in your specialty?
A: I currently am a research assistant with the State and Local Policy Program at the Humphrey School, where I do research related to transportation safety. I’m also starting a planning internship with Ramsey County's Community and Economic Development Department.

Q: Is there a particular class or professor that has made a great impact on you? How so?
A: My Sustainable Transportation course, taught by Antonio Rosell, who leads a small, community-oriented planning and design firm, has had a big impact me. Mainly, it has given me a vocabulary with which to understand and describe the problematic road design choices that are prevalent in U.S. cities. Prior to taking the class, I could intuitively understand when a road disproportionately favored motor vehicle traffic, but now I can identify the how and the why, and propose solutions to make the road better for all users.

Q: What's your favorite project you’ve worked on, in class or in practice?
A: For my introductory GIS class, I had the opportunity to complete my final project in partnership with staff from a nearby suburb as part of the University of Minnesota's Resilient Communities Project. My task was to collect data on student mobility in a particular area of the city, map the data, and submit an analysis to the city. I enjoyed the experience of applying my newfound GIS abilities to a real-world situation to produce a useful analysis.

Q: What future goals do you have in your field?
A: In the planning roles I hold after completing my graduate studies, I intend to advocate for a more compact, walkable and bikeable built environment that lends itself to equitable and sustainable outcomes for people. This will require me to learn how to convince different types of stakeholders that all road users matter, not just those who drive. I don't yet know how to do this, but am eager to learn.

Q: How has planning school changed your daily habits?
A: The more steeped in urban planning I become, the more I notice small details in the public realm that affect how people experience it. Two years ago, I never would have thought to pay attention to sidewalk widths, crossing distances, signal timing, or pavement conditions, but now I notice those types of details automatically. It makes an ordinary walk around the neighborhood a stimulating intellectual experience.

Q: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A: I alternated between baseball player and baseball radio broadcaster. I still love listening to baseball on the radio.

Q: How many different cities have you lived in and which was your favorite?
A: I've lived in eight cities across four countries, and Minneapolis is my favorite. This is fortunate, as Minneapolis is where I live now.

Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
A: My dad's side of the family is Ecuadorian, and I've been to Ecuador once, but I would like to return now that I'm an adult and fluent in Spanish.

Q: What is the title of the last book you read? What did you learn from it?
A: The last book I read was Bike Battles by James Longhurst. A big takeaway for me was that the fight for inclusive streets that serve all users isn't new. Rather, it has existed in different forms at different stages of U.S. history.

Q: What’s your favorite color and how would you creatively incorporate it into a planning project?
A: My favorite color is orange. However, as a kid I learned to be careful with orange: in seventh grade, I painted my bedroom orange (I grew up a San Francisco Giants fan), and at night when I'd turn the light on, it was so overwhelmingly orange in my room that it felt like I was living inside a jack-o-lantern. Orange isn't exactly the most calming color, so this was less than ideal.
This being said, a bright color like orange can create a feeling of warmth in a winter city like my adoptive hometown of Minneapolis. The City of Edmonton recently published its Winter City Design Guidelines, which recommends the strategic use of colors to entice people to spend time outdoors even during the coldest months.

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