University of St. Thomas students improve their transit system through their learning

Students and faculty collaborate with Metro Transit to advance a range of transit related goals in the Twin Cities region


Carl Nelson


Marshall Curry, Maria E. Dahmus, Kelly Morrell


St. Paul, MN, USA
University of St. Thomas
Sustainable Communities Partnership
Case Type
Partnership Stories
School Size
Greater than 5000
EPA Region 5, USA

The Twin Cities’ primary public transit service, Metro Transit, provides 1.5 million weekly rides across 188 jurisdictions with an efficient and accessible network of bus, commuter rail, and light rail transit. The organization is a vital community resource, connecting residents of the region to work, home, school, and each other. 

Metro Transit is an integral part of the Twin Cities urban fabric. Its official mission statement makes a commitment to “engage the community in [its] decision making… provide well crafted communication and offer opportunities for public involvement” (Mission Statement). With multiple projects in progress at any given time, the organization benefits from collaboration. Working with community partners, Metro Transit builds trust and forms new channels for innovation in education, sustainability, and social progress. 

Enter, the Sustainable Communities Partnership (SCP) program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. A member of the Educational Partnerships for Innovation  in Communities Network (EPIC-N), SCP connects partner organizations with professors across departments, who work together to build course projects that engage students and address the partner’s multifaceted needs. Participating St. Thomas students were eager to apply the skills they were learning in their courses in search of innovative solutions to complex problems.

Throughout this partnership, which will continue until 2024, participating courses and their respective faculty and students:

  • Designed a behavior change campaign to reduce littering at transit stops
  • Authored and administered a survey gauging student perceptions of public transit
  • Engaged the diverse stories of transit riders through social activism and public art
  • Analyzed ridership data in order to improve service in the Twin Cities
  • Planned and prototyped an app for a non-revenue fleet vehicle tracking system
  • Researched strategies to improve survey response rates from Spanish speakers
  • Created a strategic communications campaign encouraging student ridership
  • …and more

SCP Director Maria Dahmus and Metro Transit Commuter Programs Specialist Kelly Morrell collaborated to make this extensive partnership possible. During the process, Metro Transit and St. Thomas engaged in a symbiotic dialogue. Students imagined improvements to a service integral to the Twin Cities while gaining practical skills and enriching their learning through creative, real-world problem solving, and Metro Transit gained insight and solutions to on-going and emerging challenges from an indispensable ridership demographic.

Participating students gained valuable hands-on experience as researchers, designers, writers, marketers, and computer scientists. For Jenna DiGrado, a marketing student, one of the most valuable parts of the project was her interactions with Kelly Morrell, the point person at Metro Transit. Because of the close collaboration, Jenna writes, “we were able to understand the organization better, as well as its mission.”

The partnership produced actionable results, built stronger regional connections, and advanced Metro Transit’s commitment to community engagement. This agency partnership also involved SCP Arts, an SCP program created to collaborate with local artists to translate students’ project findings into artwork. This made possible the design and implementation of a public art installation on a Metro Transit light rail train car that brought to life findings from students’ research about the importance of transit in people’s lives.

“Through working with aspiring student leaders, we have the opportunity to shape the future skills needed to overcome the many challenges that lie ahead for the Twin Cities metropolitan region”

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