Student Spotlight

Amy Cavaretta, M.S. 2013, UF Department of Urban & Regional Planning

Amy at the CapitolAs a little girl, Amy Cavaretta loved to draw and color on her father’s engineering blueprints, imagining communities neatly arranged with roads and sidewalks, attractive homes and buildings, and lots of green grass.

“It was my amateur attempt to design livable and attractive communities,” Cavaretta said, recalling her childhood.

Cavaretta credits her current study path and future career goals to her fascination with cities, urban spaces, and transportation systems. But there are other reasons, too.

“I was drawn to transportation in particular because of the widespread impact on daily life around the globe, the wide variety of opportunities for innovation, and the range of physical scales for which transportation solutions are needed,” she said.

Cavaretta is a second year master’s student in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning (URP) at the University of Florida. Her bachelor’s degree is in civil engineering with a focus in transportation, also from UF. For her master’s, she is focusing on state and federal transportation, including public and infrastructure policy and international development planning.

The evolution

It was transportation which drew her attention to urban planning. As an undergraduate student in the civil engineering transportation program, she took courses in urban planning and found herself drawing comparisons between the technical aspects of engineering a city and its impacts on the people.

“Throughout my engineering coursework, I began to find that mathematical formulas and design guidebooks did not always consider the social, economic, and political implications of the spaces that they created, drawing my interests towards further study in planning and policy,” Cavaretta said. “By the end of my undergraduate career, I had found that the livable, sustainable quality of cities and transportation networks had inspired my pursuit of a graduate degree in urban and regional planning at UF.”

Evidence of her interest in the “livable and sustainable qualities of cities” is in Cavaretta’s thesis research topic, which examines the viability of adding public transportation to the Kibera Slum in Kenya in an attempt reduce urban poverty through increased accessibility. Her thesis will serve to make transportation recommendations that will be incorporated in plans to upgrade the slum, via a partnership between the Kenyan Government and the United Nations HABITAT program.

“To do this, my research focuses upon several concepts of accessibility that improved transportation networks can provide to economic, social, institutional, and healthcare uses that can contribute to poverty reduction,” she said.

Amy with Mica
Inklings of a leader

Cavaretta is quite serious about her passion for urban planning, and her future as a leader in the industry looks promising. She has interned at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design Urban Planning Summer Program, the City of Casselberry, Fla., and Kittelson & Associates, a transportation engineering and planning firm. Cavaretta was also selected as the first Thomas J. O’Bryant Transportation Policy and Finance Fellow of the Eno Center for Transportation, a non-partisan think-tank in Washington, D.C. During her tenure as an Eno Fellow, Cavaretta co-authored a paper that examined the federal discretionary grants program (TIGER) entitled “Lessons Learned from the TIGER Discretionary Grant Program.”

Cavaretta is an active leader in the UF Student Planning Association and has been involved with the Woman’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) UF student chapter since 2009, serving as its vice president, secretary, and newsletter/website chair. Other accolades include: David F. & Cynthia A. Davis Engineering Scholarship (University of Florida, 2011), Frankee Hellinger Undergraduate Scholarship (WTS Central Florida Chapter, 2009), Sharon D. Banks Memorial Undergraduate Scholarship (WTS National, 2010). More recently, Cavaretta has received recognition via the WTS International Helen Overly Graduate Scholarship (2012-2013), WTS South Florida Helen Overly Memorial Graduate Scholarship (2012-2013), the Outstanding Student Planner (Florida American Planning Association, 2012-2013), Florida American Planning Association Student Planner of the Year, 2012, and the STRIDE Center’s Student of the Year for 2013.

The future

So what’s in store for this young woman's future? After graduation, she plans to pursue a career in Washington, D.C. in federal and state transportation/infrastructure policy and hopes to become a certified and licensed planner.

Little did Cavaretta know that the precious time spent creating colorful drawings of buildings, homes, and roads on her father’s engineering maps was only practice for a soon-to-be career in urban and regional planning.