Xantheia Watkins had a project due, an interest and experience in urban planning and a calendar. Earth Day was approaching, she realized.
That’s when Watkins had what she calls “a light bulb moment.”
The light bulb burns brighter, stronger and reached more corners with each passing year.
Watkins’ idea: To mark Earth Day, Alabama A&M students would be able to ride the City of Huntsville shuttle buses free of charge.
That could mean less driving in private vehicles, thus being more eco-friendly. It would also encourage a little more eco-awareness for them and introduce them to the potential of using the shuttle more frequently.
That was in the spring of 2014. “Get On The Bus For Earth Day,” a collaboration between the City of Huntsville Public Transit Department and Alabama A&M, continues this week.
It has grown from a one-day event involving A&M students and faculty to a week-long initiative, with students and faculty from UAH, Oakwood College, Virginia College, Drake State and Calhoun Community College also eligible simply by presenting their IDs as they enter the bus.
A proclamation from the City of Huntsville this year marks the occasion, and Watkins admits she was “a ball of nerves” awaiting that recognition.
“We want to keep making it bigger,” says Watkins, who works as logistics/operations supervisor for the Alabama A&M transportation department.
She was a graduate student when she dreamed up the idea, working with grant funding under the direction of Dr. Berneece Herbert, the chair of A&M’s Department of Community & Regional Planning, which has been a source for some of the City of Huntsville’s key planning personnel.
“She was very hands-on and we really enjoyed having her,” Herbert says. “She came up with this concept for the celebration of Earth Day. She asked me what I thought and I really loved it. She got the partnership with the City and she put it all together.”
There are no metrics available about the riders who have taken advantage, but Watkins has some anecdotal evidence.
“I’ve had students come up to me and tell me they were glad I came up with the idea,” she says. “It’s saved them money.”
This week, students and leaders at Alabama A&M will celebrate “Get On The Bus For Earth Day” with a lunch. They’re going to choose a restaurant downtown. And they’re going to ride the bus to get there.
“We’re really proud of her, and what she did when she came to, ‘How do we connect transportation planning with the environment?’” Herbert says.
Watkins’ initial idea and project weren’t something to which a professor would have attached a grade.
Had it been, Dr. Herbert says, “it would have been an absolute A-plus.”