CRP Alumni Panel: Ben Cummins, Kristen Olson, Max Taffet, and Tanya Mooza Zwahlen
The CRP Alumni Panel brings four distinguished graduates back to Ithaca to share their experiences as practitioners in the planning field. The alumni bring expertise in transportation planning research, historic preservation, responsible urban waterfront development, and public engagement, among many other projects and interests, to the stage, where they will discuss how their work addresses big picture planning issues and the impact their Cornell experience had on their paths. Presentations will be followed by a Q&A session with the audience, and a reception.
Ben Cummins (M.R.P. '13) is an analyst at RSG, a 100-person consulting firm based in Vermont with offices throughout the U.S., Cummins's focus is on survey research for public transportation. He is responsible for developing questionnaires and sampling plans, directing field data collection, and analyzing and curating data for clients. He works with public sector and nonprofit clients throughout the country, including the New York City MTA, the Northeast Corridor Commission, and TransitCenter, among many others. Cummins was the primary author of "Who's On Board: The 2014 Mobility Attitudes Study," a TransitCenter-commissioned report which received media coverage in numerous outlets, including Streetsblog, CityLab, and the Chicago Tribune. His paper, "How Close is Close Enough: Statistical Equivalence of Onboard and Online Surveys of Transit Customers" won the William W. Millar award for best paper in public transportation at the 2013 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting.
Kristen Olson (M.A. HPP '08) is a certified rope access technician and architectural historian investigating structures throughout the U.S. and Canada with Vertical Access. She is part of a team of architects, engineers, and conservators performing inspections and in situ testing of buildings, bridges, dams, and other structures, both historic and modern. After graduating from Cornell with a master of arts in historic preservation planning, Olson worked for more than five years with Historic Ithaca. As preservation services coordinator, she developed educational and other programming, provided technical services, and advocated for Ithaca and Tompkins County's historic places. Olson joined Vertical Access in 2013, and is certified as a level II technician by the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians. When not "on rope," she is responsible for producing project deliverables and assisting with the development of TPAS, the Tablet PC Annotation System. Following nine years living in downtown Ithaca, Olson now resides in Freeville, New York (population 523) with her husband, three-year-old daughter, and cat.
Max Taffet (M.R.P. '14) is a senior project manager at the New York City Economic Development Corporation in the Ports and Transportation Division. Taffet is currently working to implement New York City's first wetland mitigation bank. Following federally established Clean Water Act guidelines for offsetting impacts to aquatic resources, this 69-acre restoration on Staten Island's west shore will generate "credits" that represent the first ever compensatory currency to exist in the Port of New York. Taffet's other professional focus includes implementing a website called the New York City "Waterfront Navigator" intended to rationalize permitting of coastal development and maintenance. Additionally, Taffet works on one of New York City's other ports — the John F. Kennedy International airport — where he works to bolster New York City's position as an international gateway for air cargo. Hailing from Boulder, Colorado, Taffet received his B.A. at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where he studied political science and fine arts. During and after his undergraduate studies, Taffet spent time in Guatemala and Honduras learning Spanish and teaching. Following his time in Central America and prior to starting at Cornell in 2012, Taffet worked for a community foundation in Colorado where he focused on philanthropy and community quality-of-life. A participant in the first year of the AAP NYC M.R.P. program, Taffet received his M.R.P. in 2014. Now a resident of Wallabout, Brooklyn, Taffet's immediate neighborhoods are the resurgent Brooklyn Navy Yard and the rattling Moses-era behemoth, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
Tanya Mooza Zwahlen (M.R.P. '03) is a native of Massachusetts and studied English and art history as an undergraduate at Boston College. In 1998, she read The Life and Death of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs and became infatuated with city planning. After graduating from the M.R.P. program in 2003, she moved to Rochester and spent her free time working on the redevelopment of the South Wedge neighborhood. In 2012, she started a consulting firm, Highland Planning, so she could focus her work entirely on community development and public engagement. In addition to her work with Highland Planning, Zwahlen is involved with several side projects. In 2012, she started Young Lion, a company aimed at creating works of art that celebrate Western New York as a place of art, culture, and opportunity. In 2013, she and two friends launched Rochester Love Notes, a letter writing campaign to the city. She also spent the last two years redeveloping a 7,000-square-foot historic church into a fully renovated mixed-use commercial space. Zwahlen lives in the Highland Park neighborhood with her husband, two children, three chickens, and a cat. In her spare time, she likes to ride her bike, play with the neighborhood kids, and scheme.