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Zane Newell’s sustainability internship helps Greenville transit

Zane Newell ’24 serves as The Shi Institute’s Public Transit and Pedestrian Connectivity Fellow for Greenlink.

Last updated August 22, 2023

By Tina Underwood

Aug. 11 marked Zane Newell’s last day of an internship with Greenlink, the City of Greenville’s public transportation system. But no one wanted him to leave. It’s a clear sign things went well.

Newell ’24, a sustainability science major from Salt Lake City, is The Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities’ Public Transit and Pedestrian Connectivity Fellow. And while the benefits of a college internship are many for both the intern and the employer, it’s fair to say Greenlink got more than it bargained for.

In just 10 weeks, Newell:

  • Crafted a database of more than 450 bus stops to record sidewalk connectivity
  • Created an upgrade priority program for the stops based on factors such as equity, safety, and accessibility, including accommodation for wheelchair users
  • Mapped Greenlink’s existing bus routes and made the map available to the public
  • Conducted more than 200 in-person surveys of riders in English and Spanish to update ridership demographic data, an important component for securing grant funds.

Nearing Newell’s final day at Greenlink, Kayleigh Cleek, transit planning manager, often heard people from across divisions at the agency ask, “’Can we please keep Zane on staff?’”

“He proved to be resourceful and ambitious,” said Cleek, noting Newell’s research skills and GIS toolkit he brought with him from Furman coursework. “Zane has an innate ability to balance self-sufficiency with reliance on expertise of those around him. This will serve him well in future roles,” she added.

Newell came away from the experience with a newfound appreciation for public transit and the importance of walkable communities.

“Public transit is an essential public service,” he said. “It feels meaningful to be able to help out with that because if the bus wasn’t running, a lot of people wouldn’t be able to get to work, the store or doctor’s appointments.”

The internship hit closer to home when Newell realized that without Greenlink, many Furman staff members wouldn’t have a way to get to work. Likewise, his inventory of sidewalk conditions and connectivity revealed large swaths of roadways where sidewalks don’t exist at all, such as along Poinsett Highway. “That’s the main way staff are coming into Furman,” he said.

Newell said the study allowed him to view Greenville through an entirely new lens while sharpening his data collection and manipulation skills using mapping software. From start to finish, he designed what data would be collected, how it would be collected, and the way it would be synthesized and presented.

“It’s nice to be able to get such an in-depth experience,” Newell said. “It gives me a case study of sorts for a lot of the work I’m doing in class.”

Newell, who plans to enroll in a master’s program after graduating to study urban planning, also spoke to the value a dedicated intern lends an organization.

“Everyone’s working very hard and juggling several projects at once,” he said. “So, I don’t think anyone necessarily would have had the time to go and survey 450 bus stops. I think that’s the value an intern brings to a project like this. That while it’s important, it just may not get done unless you have an intern doing it.”

Cleek knows well how interns can impact operations. In 2019 she worked with Furman alumni Natalie Anderson ’19 and Nate Bilodeau ’20 on a database to pinpoint bus stop upgrades, a project that eventually led to nearly $6 million in federal funding to shore up ADA compliance.

“I can’t overemphasize the importance of the work Zane did not only for Greenlink, but for all of Greenville County,” she said. “I plan to use Zane’s work for grant applications to support infrastructure improvements that ensure accessibility to and from every bus stop for Greenlink riders. We are working toward a more accessible Greenville for all.”

See related story about Furman’s history with Greenlink advocacy here.

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