New Advocates

America Walks Celebrates 2017 Class of Walking College Fellows

Are you ready for 2018?

By: Ian Thomas, America Walks State & Local Program Director
November 29, 2017

On the evening of November 30, the 2017 class of the Walking College, an interactive, online educational program for walkable community advocates, will walk across a virtual stage to receive their diplomas from America Walks.

Having spent the last six months learning from experienced walkable community campaigners about leadership, coalition-building, effective communication, walkable community design, transportation and land-use policy, and campaign planning, these community change agents are about to make the transition from students to practitioners. And, for the first time in the three-year history of the Walking College we are celebrating a 100% graduation rate (the others were 92% and 96%), as each of the 24 Fellows completed all of the requirements, including developing a long-term Walking Action Plan (WAP) to guide their future work.

This class of 24 local leaders who were selected to receive Fellowships for the 2017 Walking College based on their experiences and passion for the walking movement. The new Fellows were Hispanic/Latinx, Black/African-American, mixed-race, and White; they had backgrounds in advocacy, planning, transportation, public health, health care, education, and business; and they came from urban, suburban, and rural communities in 20 different states. This year’s program also welcomed our first Canada-resident Fellow (from Victoria, BC), and three of the new Fellows identified themselves as individuals with physical disabilities.

The walkable community advocates in this class had a variety of motivations and reasons as to why they chose to apply for a Walking College fellowship last winter. Collisa Mahin (a public health and wellness professional at the University of Florida Hospital in Jacksonville), was searching for ways to improve community health in Jacksonville’s “Health Zone 1”, an inner-city neighborhood with 32% of the population living below poverty and the highest cancer, diabetes, and chronic disease fatality rates in the city. Her online classmate, Theresa Vallez-Kelly (Safe Routes to School Coordinator for San Mateo County in California) was grieving over the “senseless” death of a former student killed during her sophomore year in college while crossing the street and motivated to make changes to her community that would protect others from future tragedy.

From May until September, the Fellows watched webinars and TED talks, studied research and opinion articles, explored fact sheets and toolkits, completed community assignments, and participated in video-conferenced discussion forums. After completing the instructional portion of the course, they attended the 2017 National Walking Summit in St. Paul where they came together with their Mentors for the Walking College Work Day, and participated in Summit activities that included mobile workshops, intensive trainings, interactive break-out sessions, and plenary presentations. And, in October, after several months of drafting and redrafting, they finalized and submitted their Walking Action Plans (WAP).

This year’s WAPs include a wide range of activities from collecting data, organizing workshops and developing communication strategies to campaigning for policy change and built environment improvements. For example, Pat Jewett’s WAP will focus on slowing down traffic and improving walkability in an unsafe highway corridor in her residential/industrial suburb of North Portland, OR. During the Walking College, Pat made a connection with her State Representative who is also the Speaker of the Oregon House, and they are now working together on legislation to add traffic calming to the street and replace an inaccessible pedestrian overpass with an at-grade crossing. And Garrett Brumfield from Roanoke, VA, who has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized scooter, will develop his “Wheels in Motion” workshop, which includes a neighborhood accessibility and walkability audit, into a national program that will help communities become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We are confident about the future impact of these initiatives on walking and walkability, because past Fellows have already achieved success with their WAPs. For example, 2016 Fellow Laural Ruggles has already convinced the St Johnsbury, VT Select Board to establish an official Walk Bike Advisory Committee; Phronie Jackson was successful in advocating for the construction of a sidewalk to replace the Washington Hospital Center “perimeter cow path;” and Phil Hanson’s leadership led to the City of Columbus, OH being awarded Silver-Level Walk-Friendly Community status. For more on what Fellows have been up to since their own graduations, read our After the Classroom case studies here.

If you find these success stories inspiring, and you want to do something about walkability in your community, then check out the 2018 Walking College. The online application process will be open from February 1st – 28th, and we will hold our “Orientation to the Walking College” webinar on February 8th.