USC’s Danielle Dirksen Strives to Become a Master of All Things Transportation

Danielle Dirksen

Meet recent University of Southern California (USC) graduate Danielle Dirksen! A Fall 2020 graduate, Danielle received her B.S. in Urban Studies and Planning with a self-proclaimed focus in transportation. Danielle’s interest in transportation, and specifically in transit, has a lot to do with where she grew up and her experiences after moving to Los Angeles for school. As she puts it:

“Growing up in Rancho Cucamonga, a car-dependent suburb in the Inland Empire, I was absolutely clueless about transit. Once I started school, I realized that I could get around on my own time via LA Metro and other agencies and I loved the feeling of freedom that came with this realization!

One of my first experiences with LA Metro’s services was a round trip between USC and Fig at 7th in Downtown LA. Except, on the return trip, I ended up stepping onto a Blue Line train rather than the Expo Line, not realizing that there were two different platforms and two entirely different lines. I had about 12 cents in my pocket and a dying phone battery and got about 5 stops into the Blue Line before I panicked and got off at the next exit. Luckily an employee was there to direct me so I didn’t wind up even more “lost”. I look back and laugh at how naïve I was and how little I knew about transportation. That trip is my version of an origin story.”

While Danielle is interested in just about all areas of transportation—with the notable exception of single-occupancy vehicles—she is especially drawn to mobility justice, public transit, and community outreach and engagement. She believes the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy’s strongest asset is its focus on equity within policy and planning. Danielle feels her education has trained her to be on the lookout for how planners and policy makers can work directly with the public to make transit more equitable in all regards. However, Danielle believes USC as a whole has a long way to go in actively being equitable in addition to teaching equitability: she feels the university has contributed heavily to local policy issues such as gentrification.

People standing in front of stairs.
Danielle (second from left) was part of the USC team at the Institute of Transportation Engineers' Student Leadership Summit in 2019.

 

“Ms. Dirksen has been a proven change-maker and advocate for mobility justice, and is a recognized leader by both her instructors and her peers,” shared METRANS Associate Director Dr. Victoria Deguzman. “Ms. Dirksen’s leadership abilities and her potential to contribute significantly to both practice and academia have been demonstrated throughout her many successes as an undergraduate, and I fully expect this to continue. She is actively and passionately engaged in the transportation industry and will surely make a major contribution to the field.”

During her time at USC, Danielle was involved in the Residential Housing Association (RHA), which acts as a liaison between students, faculty and administrators, in an effort to build community and create a better housing experience for residents. Through RHA, she served as the Community Outreach Chair and President for her apartment complexes. She has primarily been involved with transportation-focused ordeals during her undergraduate career. Danielle interned for the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA), which runs Metrolink train service, where she assisted in the agency’s preparations for the adoption of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) and worked on a project to introduce the agency to embedded planning—a form of planning which emphasizes planners' presence in the field and the use of direct action to address community issues. In a team competition around a mock request for proposal (RFP), she came in 2nd place in the California Transportation Foundation’s (CTF) Transportation Education Symposium. These contributions led to Danielle’s recognition as the Pacific Southwest Region UTC’s 2020 outstanding undergraduate student of the year!

 

Group of people posing for a picture
Danielle (front center) and her peers with Jonathan Pacheco Bell (right), the creator of Embedded Planning

 

Currently, Danielle is interning with the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), where she serves as the Capital Projects Outreach Intern for the OC Streetcar, which includes helping with social media and Eat, Shop, Play campaigns. In five years, she hopes to attend UC Berkeley’s dual Master’s degree program in planning and civil engineering. Her long-term goal is to become a “jack-of-all-trades” transit planner who is well versed in planning, GIS, community outreach, marketing, as well as potentially the engineering side of things. For now, she plans on continuing with OCTA and in the next few years hopes to gain experience as a bus operator with LA Metro and as a project assistant with Arellano Associates, a public outreach and communications firm focused on stakeholder engagement in the public sector. For now, Danielle plans to sharpen her GIS skills through Santa Monica College and continue her internship with OCTA. For fun, she hopes to keep collecting transportation memorabilia and exploring the transit side of Twitter.

Keep up the amazing work, Danielle!

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