Enrichment Foreign Fulbright Fulbright-Millennial Trains Project

Making a Connection

August 21, 2014

In the words of Alyas Widita, a Fulbright Foreign Student from Indonesia:

Alyas on the MTP

Fulbright Foreign Student from Indonesia Alyas Widita reflecting on his upcoming trip to Chicago, IL

I had a great time in Milwaukee. During my time there, I sensed from the millennials I met with an eagerness to transform the physical landscape and image of the city with their hands and hearts. I was a bit sad to leave, but also excited for the adventure awaiting the Fulbright-MTP group in Chicago.

Prior to departing for Chicago, I reminded myself to spend at least an hour of the trip sleeping. By the time the Fulbright-MTP group were on their way to Chicago, and MTP’s Patrick Dowd introduced one of the Chicago visit speakers, Charlie Monte Verde,  Government Affairs Specialist at Amtrak, I could not help but stay awake to listen to him. Charlie Monte Verde spoke about topics that I am very interested in: the future of transportation, urban development, and how Amtrak will factor into all of these developments. Charlie reiterated Amtrak’s strategic importance in connecting communities throughout the country, especially the role of long distance rail routes. He pointed out that long distance rail routes are not merely a form of transportation, connecting point A to point B, but also a way to promote economic development and urban growth. Following his lecture, we had a lively discussion in which everyone had a chance to voice his or her views about Amtrak. It was a truly compelling moment as Fulbright-MTP participants were deeply engaged in the discussion with Charlie, and also exchanging opinions with each other about how millennials can play a role in shaping the future of Amtrak – as well as the future of cities and regions. As the marvelous Chicago skyline started to come into view, the fruitful discussion with Charlie ended.

Alyas with Charlie Monte Verde from Amtrak

Charlie Monte Verde, Government Affairs Specialist, Amtrak (center), engaged in a lively discussion with the Fulbright-MTP participants

The train arrived in Chicago’s Union Station at about 10:00 a.m. The weather in Chicago was nice and sunny, just as it had been when we left Milwaukee. With plentiful sunshine, the light that penetrated the station’s opaque glass roof made the already amazing Union Station even more beautiful. The Fulbright-MTP group didn’t waste an opportunity to take some photos, and then headed off to Amtrak’s Rail Yards.

That afternoon, I headed off to my meeting with Hillary Green, Communication Officer at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), near the Willis Tower. As the day was so beautiful, I decided to walk to my appointment, which turned out to be a good decision as I was able to see other parts of downtown Chicago that I hadn’t already seen. As a student at the University of Iowa, a few hours’ drive from the Windy City, I had already visited Chicago couple of times, but there are still parts of the city that I am not familiar with. My meeting with Hillary Green broadened my awareness about how Chicago’s city planning will be enhanced in the future. Hillary explained the creation of CMAP GO TO 2040,  and how it might relate to millennials. Interestingly enough, although the plan was not created specifically with millennials in mind (it was created to address the city’s entire population), many elements of it echo previous studies that have revealed millennials’ preferences about cities such as accessible public transportation and environmental sustainability.

Later that afternoon, I met with Jeffrey Sriver, Director of Transportation Planning and Programming, Department of Transportation of the City of Chicago. This meeting had been arranged by Leslie Gahagan from the MTP staff (thank you so much, Leslie!). Jeffrey provided a brief history of U.S. urban development, his experiences working in developing countries early on in his career (including Indonesia), and the future challenges faced in cities as complex as Chicago. Even though the meeting was short, it was an amazing experience to share thoughts with an established figure like Jeffrey Sriver.

One idea that instantly crossed my mind after this meeting: it would be great idea to invite Jeffrey Sriver to participate in Indonesian conferences. I plan on informing my bosses and co-workers at my home institution, Universitas Gadjah Mada, about the established mentors and people I met during my Fulbright-MTP journey.

The Fulbright-MTP journey has connected me with so many inspiring figures across disciplines, in addition to learning from my fellow Fulbright-MTP participants. I intend to continue to nurture these connections.

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