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School and Work Intersect for Transportation Engineering Graduate Student

Jenna Howard ’19 Helping UML Design ‘Pawtucket Greenway’

Graduate student Jenna Howard stands in front of University Crossing on Pawtucket Street Photo by Ed Brennen
Through her job with the civil engineering firm TEC, transportation engineering graduate student Jenna Howard '19 is leading the design of UML's Pawtucket Greenway, which will improve the connection between South Campus and the rest of the university.

05/10/2021
By Ed Brennen

It’s a challenge that has befuddled campus planners for years: How to make the half-mile stretch of Pawtucket Street that connects South Campus to the rest of the university more inviting for pedestrians and bicyclists.

A UMass Lowell student is hard at work on a solution.

Jenna Howard ’19, a part-time transportation engineering graduate student, also works full time as a transportation infrastructure designer for a local civil engineering firm called The Engineering Corp (TEC). Last year, the university hired TEC to design the “Pawtucket Greenway,” thanks to a $57,000 MassTrails grant from the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Howard, who joined TEC in 2019 after completing her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, is leading the project design.

“It’s so exciting to be a part of this,” the Newton, Massachusetts, native says. “UMass Lowell has empowered me with this education, and it’s such an honor to be able to give back to the university in this way.”

A collaboration between UML and city of Lowell, the goal of the Pawtucket Greenway project is to create a consistent, shared path for pedestrians and bicyclists from Wilder Street on South Campus to Aiken Street on East Campus. It is a key component of UML’s Transportation Master Plan.

While some sections of the corridor are wide enough to provide ample separation between a shared path and cars, other areas are more narrow and confined by private residences, retail storefronts and historic features such as granite walls and cast iron fences.
A rendering of the proposed shared path on Pawtucket Street Photo by TEC
During a public forum on the Pawtucket Greenway project last semester, TEC officials shared this rendering of the proposed shared path for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“There are a few pinch points, especially during peak-hour traffic at the Salem Street and School Street intersections,” Howard says. “We’re working on improving those traffic conditions and also maximizing the sidewalk on either side to hopefully get people out of their cars and onto these paths.”

Howard knows the campus streets as well as anyone. While an undergraduate student, she drove campus shuttle busses for two years for Transportation Services.

“I was super familiar with Pawtucket Street and some of the traffic and transportation issues, driving it myself all the time,” she says. “Living on campus for three years, it was essentially my home.”

Howard transferred to UML from MassBay Community College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where she searched for an academic lane that was right for her.

“I studied law, psychology, business, trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” she says.

She discovered she liked her math courses and was encouraged by several of her female faculty members to pursue the STEM fields.
 
“They pulled me outside of class and said, ‘Hey, you need to do something in STEM. You’re good at this,’” Howard recalls. “I felt like that was a sign, especially with the lack of women — and women of color, in particular — in STEM fields. I really wanted to see if I could be a part of the change that we hope to see.”

In the Francis College of Engineering, Howard has found similar mentorship from Civil and Environment Engineering Asst. Prof. Danjue Chen.

“She teaches traffic courses, and she has been very inspirational to me as a woman and engineer,” says Howard, who gave presentations about her Pawtucket Greenway work to two transportation engineering graduate classes this spring.
Jenna Howard leans against a UML sign on Pawtucket Street Photo by Ed Brennen
Graduate student Jenna Howard says the Pawtucket Greenway project is the "most meaningful work I've done."

“I thought it would be cool to share what we’re doing with students and give them that real-life application,” she says.

Howard has worked with Lowell Department of Public Works Commissioner — and fellow civil engineering alum — Christine Clancy ’06 on the project, as well as Adam Baacke, UML’s executive director of planning, design and construction.

“The Pawtucket Greenway is a project that is very important to the university, and also a tremendous opportunity for the city,” Baacke said during a virtual public forum about the project last semester. “It’s a complicated exercise that involves a lot of different partners — the university can’t just address this by itself — and we’ve been really pleased by the degree to which the city has embraced this idea.”
 
Howard, who is based out of TEC’s Andover, Massachusetts, office, is currently working on the conceptual design phase of the project, which is scheduled to be completed in June. From there, the university and city will petition the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to initiate a state or federally funded construction project.

While tangible results are probably several years away, Howard is happy to apply what she has learned — and is still learning — to help improve life on campus.

“It’s truly been incredible,” she says. “This has been the most meaningful work I’ve done.”