January 13, 2014

ENVS Blog: My Experience as an Education Intern for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance

Tom Rodrigues (‘14) describes his experience doing an internship with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and his task of updating old curriculum related to bicycle safety for kids.

Tom Rodrigues (‘14)

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is a nonprofit advocacy organization that works to promote cycling in Oregon.  Founded in 1990, the BTA works primarily through lobbying, education, and events, but we try not to limit our creativity. The past semester I had the opportunity to be an education intern at the BTA, and I will be continuing my work into next year. I landed the position with the help of fellow Environmental Studies major and former intern Lucy Roberts, and I started to work under LeeAnne Fergason. LeeAnne is the education director at the BTA, and when I first came to the office, she gave me a list of projects that I could choose from. Among the eight or so that she listed, I chose to update their Safe Routes for Kids curriculum and video. I had never done any project like this and neither had she, but she felt that my background in leading groups and conducting research showed that I was capable of taking on a project like this.

I was charged with updating the curriculum through a heavy editing process influenced by current instructor feedback and similar curricula across the nation. That process also included producing a new educational video to accompany the written curricula. The current video was filmed nearly a decade ago, and it shows. Among dated graphics and spandex-clad adults some culturally insensitive accents and sly remarks are sprinkled. The new video would be a little bit different. The curriculum was a hefty document weighing in at over 100 pages—not exactly easy to tote around the classroom or outside onto the playground. My job was to edit the content and leave the updating of the 90s-era graphics and formatting for another intern.

Throughout the project I was keenly aware of some of the larger themes informing my project. During some feedback sessions with current instructors, we spoke a lot about tearing down the trichotomy between pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers. The program is aimed at kids far from driving age, but they are constantly switching to and from riding and walking. We tried to bring pedestrian safety into our bicycle curriculum to account for this duality. We also added some common motivations behind cycling, as the current curriculum lacked any explicit reason why someone might rather ride a bike than drive a car. My thesis research helped inform our decision to include exercise at the forefront of the motivators, followed by economic and carbon-reduction motivations.

Though the project is not completely done, I credit a large part of my success at the BTA to my co-curricular research projects with the Environmental Studies Program. Conducting research in the summers of 2011 and 2013 gave me the time management and group-work skills to get this project rolling at the BTA.

Taking this internship was a great step for my career. With my interests in education and active transportation, I chose to work here to get a sense of the nonprofit advocacy world. As it turns out, I really enjoyed working at the BTA because of the atmosphere in the office and the sense of ownership and accomplishment from my project. I have seen both in the classroom and outside on bikes how my curriculum update can transform the children’s experience. My co-workers were young, motivated, and friendly, and I met a few influential and well-connected folks in the bike industry. Here’s to hoping networking pays off with a job!