Walking College Fellows Take Their Advocacy to the Big Leagues

The Walking College is a place where walkable community advocates from various professional backgrounds come together to learn from both expert mentors and each other, to build their advocacy dreams into strong action plans.

Over the last five years America Walks has graduated about 118 Walking College Fellows from all over the US and is currently planning for the fifth class of the program. Together, we’re planting the seeds of walkable communities and leaders of the walking movement are sprouting up everywhere making things happen. Here are a few special updates highlighting some of those Walking College Fellows who are already creating lasting change in their neighborhoods.

Traffic Garden Pitch Gets Unexpected Funding

Mary McPherson, Program Manager at Washington County Health Department and 2018 Walking College Fellow, took full advantage of the networking opportunities when she attended the Walk/Bike/Places Conference held in New Orleans last year — part of the Walking College activities — and it paid off, literally.

“None of this would have ever happened without the Walking College Fellow experience.  I learned so much, formed wonderful partnerships, and became much more confident in my ability to create change,” says McPherson.

The conference allowed Mary to hear about projects being implemented around the country.  During one breakout session she connected with a few folks who talked about “Traffic Gardens” for children. Mary loved the idea and took it to heart, hoping to bring the concept to Hagerstown. After careful brainstorming with her new contacts she made a pitch to her connections in Hagerstown as well as the folks at the Maryland Department of Health. The idea was welcomed quickly and the health department was awarded $20,000 to educate children and build a Traffic Garden in Hagerstown.

Traffic Gardens are gaining traction as a fun but practical educational model for children learning how to get around by bike and hone their bicycling skills. It’s also a hands on, simulated way to teach kids how to safely use and share the road with all other users across the spectrum of active mobility modes.

“It will be amazing to have a place where children can enjoy their bicycles in a safe environment, learn the rules of the road and hopefully become life long bicycle enthusiasts… I feel that in all of my 20 years of work in public health, this could be the one project that will truly make a difference in the health of our community,”  says McPherson.

Walking College Fellow Coordinates Safe Routes to School

Lisa Diaz, 2015 Walking College Fellow, was recently appointed Safe Routes to School Coordinator for the City and County of Denver, Colorado. This next move in her walking advocacy career is sort of an extension of the foundation of work she’s already been building upon in her community.

Lisa’s Walking College Action Plan was an environmental scan of sidewalk maintenance and repair policies in U.S. cities that had recently adopted policies to take responsibility for the maintenance and repair of sidewalks. This was a project that had direction from WalkDenver in response to a critical need in the City and County of Denver, where sidewalks are the responsibility of the adjacent property owner. The Denver City Council sidewalk working group used this work to consider other options for addressing the need for sidewalk maintenance and repair.

Lisa also serves on her Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee. She refers to her experience at The Walking College as an essential experience that has provided a foundation to build a career that she is passionate about.

“I still refer to the my notes from some of the modules to remind me of what my work can look like”, says Lisa.

Most importantly, Lisa looks forward to making a difference as a partner in a movement that contributes positively to the five social determinants of health — built environment, health, economic stability, education, and social community connectivity.

“I am exploring innovative ways to serve as a city employee so that I can be part of a team of professionals dedicated to the right to be safe and have access as a pedestrian, and as a human being, to both our basic needs to get to where we need to go and to enjoy beautiful places without as much dependance on a motor vehicle. After all, as a walking advocate once told me, we are all pedestrians by design.”

Public Health Professional Knits Connectivity Among People and Places

Erin Murphy, Program Manager at Lorain County Public Health,  is on a mission to build cascading support for walkability among municipalities in Lorain County. Knowing that she needed a network of her own to gain inspiration and practical advice as she worked toward connecting communities with resources, she applied for the Walking College and began her fellowship in May 2015.

Erin identifies natural leaders and opportunities for greater community engagement. She works with professionals across sectors, knitting together partnerships in the background to create long-term change. She found that the Walking College helped her facilitate those conversations with confidence.

“I do a lot of work with city and township administrations, and every time you are working on walking,” she says, “you find yourself in the same room having conversations with planners and engineers, parks and recreation people — and having the background information to really be able to communicate in their language at least a little bit was really a benefit and helpful to me.

Among her projects, Erin  worked with the parks board and the public library in the village of LaGrange to install a “Storybook Stroll” in the community’s main park. Now, the park attracts families even when there aren’t softball games or other sporting events, inviting more uses and encouraging even young children to walk. 

Erin continues to push for active transportation as a driving force in Lorain County. Most recently, a coalition to build an active transportation plan, called “Lorain Connected”, was formed. Last spring, they helped facilitate a Better Block event, where a main street in Lorain was turned into a walkable area with parklets and bike lanes. The event even encouraged a local entrepreneur to open a business on the block. City administration is also now looking at passing a Vision Zero resolution this year.

Murphy continues to be a change agent in her field, helping people tap into creative solutions to systemic issues while seeking solid built environment-based solutions in her community.

Want to Join Their Ranks?

These are just a few of the many examples of how the Walking College works to help pave key advocacy paths for individuals who wish to advance walkability in their neighborhoods. Every year, Walking College Fellowships are awarded to about 25 advocates who are working alone, in local organizations, or in their professional capacity to foster more walkable communities. Check out this in-depth overview of the program’s early successes to see other tangible outcomes across the country.

Are you interested in applying for The Walking College? We’d love to have you. America Walks is accepting applications until February 28th. Learn more and apply here.