|Science and Math at Simon's Rock|
Alexandra Bowen (02) is designing bike access in Manhattan as her senior thesis
Anyone who has lived near a park in a big city knows the presence that such a space can have. It can be an oasis—a place to get needed nature and fresh air—or it can be like a haunted house: intriguing, but nobody with any sense goes into it. Think Central Park, where thousands of New Yorkers find a bit of sanity every day, running, strolling, even watching miniature motorized sailboats and eating ice cream.
Then go north to the end of that park, just across 110th Street, and into the much less utilized Morningside Park. If you look up the hill from that park, you see where Alexandra Bowen ('02) lives, and you may also note that her perch is probably a perfect place to think about her project: She is designing bike access to connect upper Manhattan's parks.
Bowen is an Engineering 3/2 student at Simon's Rock and Columbia University. That means she studied at Simon's Rock her first and second year and earned her A.A. degree, stayed on for a year to take pre-engineering requirements, and then went to Columbia University's School of Engineering to earn her B.S. degree. When she graduates this May, Bowen will have a degree from each school.
The park bike access project is both her senior design project at Columbia and her Simon's Rock thesis. To do it, she has hooked up with an ambitious project started at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, CLIMB (City Living is Moving Bodies), which is "an initiative founded on the belief that safe parks and neighborhoods are essential to community health, and that all communities, regardless of socioeconomic background, are entitled to access to safe parks and neighborhoods." CLIMB, says Bowen, sees the mission of healthy parks and access to parks as part of a solution to myriad community problems, including gang violence and obesity. CLIMB, she says, "has a grand vision to connect people to parks, encourage community ownership, change then from being feared, dirty and dangerous, into places that are beautiful."
To read more about CLIMB, see:
Her own project is, as you might imagine, quite concrete: to figure out ways to move bicycles safely through the city streets, thus encouraging riders to travel from park to park. That means studying traffic patterns and traffic engineering—a high art form in this city—or as she puts it: "How to design an intersection so the bikes can get through and the cars can get through." And, she adds, "If you were on a bike and you wanted to go up this spine of parks, how would you go? And what do we do to make sure that you don't get run over by a truck?"
The goal is a clear and safe route from Central Park to Morningside Park, to St. Nicholas Park, across 145th St. to Jackie Robinson Park, and then across 155th St. to the bottom of High Bridge Park, the biggest green space in Manhattan, and a place in which most New Yorkers have never been.
As Bowen looks around at her fellow students' projects, she realizes she picked one that suits her. "I wanted a project with a social component," she says; and the local component—really getting to know the city in which she is living—suits her as well. She is also a liberal arts oriented engineering student, with interests in photography, sociology and physics.
Bowen, who grew up in Lafayette, Indiana, and Cincinnati, Ohio, applied to both Washington University and Columbia for the 3/2 program, and then picked Columbia.
Her thesis committee at Simon's Rock is Ryan Carey (History) and Don Roeder, (Environmental Issues, Botany), with her thesis advisor being Michael Bergman (Physics). Her academic advisor is Eric Kramer.
Bergman started the 3/2 program in 2002. He says, "I noticed a lot of students were going into engineering, but taking three years to finish because of our liberal arts requirements. So I figured why not do three years here, and two at the engineering school. I knew engineering schools sometimes made arrangements with liberal arts colleges, and it seemed like a perfect match pedagogically, since 16 year olds are not ready to commit to something as specialized as engineering." Interestingly, and helpfully, an old professor of his was dean of the engineering school at Columbia. Bergman did his undergraduate work at Columbia.
The first Simon's Rock students started at Columbia in 2003 and finished their B.A./B.S degrees in 2005. Four students entered the first year, Bergman said, one the following year, and one last year. This year, there are five juniors in the program and a junior at Dartmouth as well. Bergman says he hopes to have four or five students pursuing the program each year.
Two sets of faculty, two groups of students, two cultures, and even two graduations for Alexandra Bowen. There is Columbia, where groups of 500 stand up at one time, she says, and then there is Simon's Rock, where each person shakes the president's hand. She may attend both, but first things first, and for now her mind is pretty much taken up with getting through senior year, including her design project/thesis. —J. M.