Friday, September 9, 2011

Ian Lockwood’s First Week at Harvard University as a Loeb Fellow

I had clothing and shelter but needed food.  Man cannot live on homemade chocolate cookies and muffins alone.  Plus, my supplies of both were dwindling.  To increase my foraging range, I took a look at the bike that Bryan Bell, from the Class of 2011, had given to me during our orientation a few months ago.  He was right.  It was a beater.  In fact, it was the definition of a beater.  It was the beater to beat all beaters.  It was a 1960s, green-colored, steel-framed, steel-rimmed, Raleigh 10-speed.  Remember those?  The chain was rusted stiff, neither derailleur functioned so it really was a one speed, and the seat was permanently stuck in the lowest position.  On the upside, the front brake appeared to work and both tires held air despite the cracks.  With plenty of oil, a pair of pliers, and some elbow grease, I loosened the chain up and got it functioned again.
Peter Park and his cool (functioning) old bike
I headed out for provisions on my one-speed bike that masqueraded as a ten-speed.  I made it all the way to the end of the driveway and aborted.  The front brake pads may as well have been made of the same steel as the rim.  They were not very effective.  The bike was relegated back to the basement and I walked.  Nearby, there was an expensive little market where I bought the essentials.  Over the course of the week, I would learn about two Whole Food stores, a Trader Joes, and a Shaws (the closest thing that resembles a regular grocery store), all within a two-mile radius.
It didn’t take me long to set up my room back at the Doebele House.  My roommates would show up one by one.  Peter Park was the first, who was the former Planning Director from Denver.  I remembered his diverse interests from the orientation that included better codes, transportation systems, partnerships, public engagement processes.  He had been around a couple of highway removals before, one in Milwaukee and one in Denver, so we definitely had some common interests.

Andres Lepik (left) and me in our kitchen.  Andres turned
out to be quite the chef which is very cool.
Andres Lepik was the second.  He was an architecture curator in Berlin as well as at the Museum of Modern Art and New York City.  He was interested in how one would curate a show in the future when, increasingly, architects and other designers do their work digitally.  What would hang on the walls when there was no paper?  Would there even be walls?  What would a show look like?  Would there be any physical models?  Would museums become somewhat virtual places that people would visit over the internet?  Andres seemed like a very creative person so I was sure he had some ideas and I was curious to see what he would come up with.

Chris Calott, a professor, architect, and developer
The final roommate to arrive was Chris Calott.  He is a practicing architect and developer, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  He had worked all over the US and Mexico and used to be a professor.  He really gets the Hispanic and Native American cultures and does a variety projects with varying densities and mixes of land uses.  Chris has an encyclopedic knowledge of architecture, architecture history, and contemporary trends and debates which makes for great conversation and opportunities to learn.  He interests for the Loeb Fellowship were diverse but his focus is on finance mechanisms for affordable housing.  In addition to having diverse interests, my three new amigos all seemed compatible and capable for having a bit of fun.
Class selection would be happening in a couple of days, so Jim and Sally had to brief us on several subjects and get us organized for the year.  They reviewed the material that they had previously covered during the orientation and went into more detail on schedules and responsibilities.  We would be involved in organizing weekly seminars (some public and some just with the Fellows), weekly dinners during which we would arrange guest speakers, the odd symposium, helping out with studios, and our course work.  Every week was going to be packed.  There would also be three trips, one to Maine, one to Vancouver, and one to India.  Jim and Sally reviewed the purposes of the trips and the dates.

Jim inviting the students and faculty to our three-day event
Jim and Sally had big posters made with the nine Fellows' names printed in huge letters advertising our "introductions" to the GSD.  Jim made a very nice speech to the students and faculty, inviting them to attend our introductions.  The idea was that, for three days in a row, a lunch would be served to whoever showed up to listen.  Each day, three of the nine Fellows would describe their work and interests at the GSD.  Somehow, I was selected to go first on the first day. 
Jim and Anna Heringer (also a Loeb Fellow) enjoy Andres'
reaction to an historically significant and rare book
from the Francis Loeb Library's extensive collection.
Jim and Sally also arranged a spectacular tour of the Frances Loeb Library, apparently the best architectural library on the planet.  Over several hours, various librarians took turns showed us tiny samples from their huge collections.  It was absolutely fascinating stuff.  Any one of us could spend our entire year in the library looking through the collections.  The librarians were given the heads up, by Sally and Jim, on what our interests were and they had chosen artifacts accordingly.   They nailed it.  Every one of us will be going back there as often as we can.  We also were briefed on all things computer by the GSD’s top computer expert, a really helpful guy named, Hal, which I hope was a coincidence.  Lastly, we attended a lecture on the history of the Graduate School of Design which was helpful because it allowed us to understand why the school was so big on modernism and landscape urbanism for example.  Its current leanings and teachings have roots that go right back to its founders.

Jim and Jean Lauer (also a Loeb Fellow)
discuss the sites on the walking tour

Jim and Sally also took us on a bus ride into Boston to show us the ropes for the "T" which is what they call the transit system here.  Once we got to Boston, we went on a wonderful walking tour and had supper at the famous Durgin-Park Restaurant.  We saw wonderful streets, parks, and buildings some which great design and others that were horrible (like the modern City Hall building).

Eight of the nine Fellows in a park with Jim and Sally

Bike Share Program in Boston



Five Fellows and Sally enjoy Sue's wonderful cooking

I suppose Jim and his wife, Sue, were worried that we hadn't managed to make it to a grocery store yet.  They, generously, had us all over for a meal.  Their place had a large back yard with a patio where we had a little reception.  The patio was centered behind the house, a basketball area was to one side, and a lawn was to the other.  The fairly complete tree canopy gave the yard a comfortable sense of enclosure.  The reception was followed by a very tasty buffet that was waiting for us in their lower party room. 

I brought my road bike with me with the intensions of tagging along with one of the bike groups for the odd Saturday morning ride.  However, I picked the wrong group.  These guys don’t go for Saturday morning rides; they go out to determine who the alpha male is over a 75 to 80 mile course.
I planned on cutting the distance in half and it ended up being even shorter than that.  They were all A-riders and some collegiate racers.  They all had trained hard over the summer and were eager to show off their watt-generating capabilities.  I was a B-rider, twice their age, who hadn’t ridden in a while.  Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I knew that I was going to get dropped like a rock and be lost in nowhere Massachusetts.  I tucked in behind one of taller riders to minimize my effort but that was not enough.  Furthermore, the road surfaces were uneven, pitted, and pot-holed.  It was like operating jack-hammer while riding a bike.  I was not enjoying the ride on any level.  Ringing in the back of my head, I could hear two of Jim’s and Sally’s many pieces of advice; i) if it is not enjoyable stop and ii) try new things.  It was at that moment when I slowed up and let the peloton disappear over the hill.  I concluded that I would try the myriad of unfamiliar exercise options available through the extensive athletic facilities at Harvard, use my bike for more leisurely rides with my fellow Fellows, and get back into the road scene after my time at Harvard.  I humbly and happily returned to the Doebele House, content with my decision.
Standing room only as students decide if the class
is of interest to them
Choosing classes was difficult.  I was interested in dozens of the classes and the recommended load was three.  It was even tougher because the numerous classes at MIT and other schools in the area were available as well.  However, Harvard helped by having “shopping days”.  During this time, the professors would introduce their courses and, afterwards, we got to select.  The trick was to narrow things down prior to the shopping days and then get to your short list’s presentations.  I ended up choosing five courses; two at the Kennedy School of Government, one at MIT, and two at the GSD.  I decided that, if it got to be overwhelming, then I’d drop accordingly.
The first week was achieved on foot.  The beater bike was arguable dangerous.  However, I couldn’t make my schedule work by walking.  The distances were too far.  I couldn’t use my road bike either.  Apparently, the Cambridge bike thieves are professionals and some of the most highly skilled thieves anywhere.  Several sources said that if they can’t steal your whole bike, then they will settle for parts.  Considering that my road bike’s brakes are worth more than the average bike in Harvard Yard, using my road bike for everyday use was not an option.  Plan A was to fix the beater.  I white-knuckled the beater to a reputable local bike shop.  Upon thorough inspections, the beater was worse off than I thought.  Many of the parts were beyond repair, some cracked completely through.  Replacement new parts were no longer available so we’d have to search for compatible old parts.  The bill to get the thing operating again was as much as a new bike and the old bike would still be a beater.  I decided to buy a new cheap bike.  Back to the basement went the beater.
Me with my heavy duty, utilitarian, campus bike 
I hoofed around the local bike store circuit.  Eventually, I ended up at the farthest corner of the campus, the Radcliffe Quad where there is a not-for-profit, on-campus, bike shop with great service and some cool inexpensive bikes.  Quad Bikes, as it’s known, is run by an ex-collegiate bike racer, named Mike, who hires a small team of student bike mechanics to help him out.  Mike set me up with the perfect campus bike.  It’s got seven speeds, fenders front and back, a heavy-duty rear kickstand, aluminum wheels for good braking in wet weather, a basket up front, and a mondo basket on the back.  That bike can carry about six bags of groceries without any hooks or bungee cords.  It weighs a whopping 46 pounds, including the three mandatory locks (one for the seat, one U-bar for one wheel, the frame, and the immovable object; and one cable lock for the other wheel).
So, I was more or less settled in my room with a schedule, food, and wheels.  Symbolically, my wife’s and daughter’s supply of cookies and muffins ran out at the same time.  I was looking forward to diving in and was committed to make a go of whatever was coming.

Ian Lockwood’s Trip to Harvard University

Following the orientation, my family and I had to make a decision about who was coming to Cambridge.  Our first realistic option was that we could all go.  Harvard would house us and help find a high school for Sarah and Evan.  My affiliate (that’s hard to get used to) and children would undoubtedly have all sorts of cool experiences at Harvard and in the area.  It would be a great family adventure. 

Sarah (front middle) and Evan (back left)
with Evan's Orlando Gold Volleyball Team
at 2011 National Championships
Our second option was for me to go alone and have the occasional visit back and forth.  This ended up being our choice.  Sarah and Evan had positioned themselves for roles at their High School that they would not necessarily have at a new high school.  Sarah, in particular, had positioned herself for three years to take on several leadership roles in her senior year, including president of the Quill and Scroll Club and head editor-in-chief of the school newspaper.  She really didn’t want to miss out on those experiences.  She also wanted that experience on her resume so she could better position herself for her college aspirations.  Both children were also heavily involved in their high school’s volleyball program.  In addition, Evan was on a nationally-ranked team with his volleyball club. 
During the months preceding my departure from the office, I finished up what projects I could, transitioned other projects to capable team-mates, passed on my marketing leads, and allocated any new work to others.  Tim, Fabian, and Ed were their steadfastly supportive selves.  Brent Lacy, who is my Service Group Leader, in Orlando, and Paul Moore, a senior transportation engineer from our Atlanta office, were also very supportive.  Both Brent and Paul would likely have to fulfill roles that I would normally have done.  By the end, through a team effort, everything short of a few memos to write was off my plate.  The table was set for reloading my plate at Harvard.
Rented Minivan Packed for Trip
 I rented a Dodge Caravan minivan, packed up my stuff, said my cheerios, and headed north.  Saying “fare well” to my family was the hardest part.  I’d routinely left them over the last twenty-something years for business trips.  However, those trips were generally during the week when they were busy with their schooling and routine.  Those trips rarely lasted more than three to five days and I’d only miss the odd birthday party, school concert, tutoring opportunity, volleyball game, graduation, and so forth.  If something broke around the house, then it would only need to wait a few days and I’d be back to fix it.  This was a different story.  This was for a long time.

My family (Evan, Sarah, and Joanne) and
Evan's friend and teammate, Joel, see me off
The morning of my departure, I gave Joanne, Sarah, and Evan a series of hugs and kisses, told them that I loved them, and asked them to look after each other while I was away.  Sarah had made me a large bag of chocolate chip cookies and my wife had made me a bunch of muffins.  I certainly wasn’t going to starve.  We promised to video conference every Sunday evening.  I left a framed picture of myself in Harvard Yard on the mantel to remind them that I was still there in spirit but had to be in Cambridge because I was doing something important for our family, for our community, and for many other communities.  Leaving home, which seemed so theoretical and far away in December, had become incredibly real.  It was everything I could do to not lose it in front of my family.  I was going to miss them so much.  I was hardly out of the driveway and tears were rolling down my cheeks. 
Traffic Jam en Route
The drive was relatively uneventful for me.  However, it was not uneventful for others.  On the way up, I would occasionally get caught in a traffic jam.  The pattern was the same.  A police car and/or ambulance would race by on the shoulder of the highway, sirens screaming and lights flashing.  The rest of us, highway sheep, would dutifully creep along in our lanes until we got past the blockage.  The odd impatient driver would switch lanes, often more than once, and not seem to get any farther ahead for the effort.  The traffic reports on the radio were less than timely; they would confirm that, yes indeed, there was a traffic jam at my location and that there was an “accident” ahead.  However, what was only an inconvenience to the flock and an “accident” to the lady on the radio lady was a life-altering disaster for the victims and their families.  The pain and suffered were so routine that those not directly involved were not even feeling it any more.  The lady on the radio wasn’t concerned with the father and daughter who just died in a highway ditch; she was concerned about me and my flock-mates being delayed.  I passed several recent crash sites on my way to Cambridge, some of which involved injuries at best.  Each time, the emergency responders were on the crash scene doing their job, tending to the injured and dead, clearing the wreckage, and documenting.  The rest of us gawked as we drove past, accelerated back to 5 mph over the speed limit and lamented, “Gee, it’s lucky that wasn’t us.”

One of Thousands of Crash Scenes Each Month in the USA
The crash scenes reminded me of the big picture, the aggregate of similar scenes being played out on highways and streets across the country.  It reminded me that 30,000 to 40,000 people are killed on American roads annually.  That is the death toll equivalent to the 911 disaster’s death toll every month of every year.  Compared with other countries, the annual collision-related deaths per million people in the United States, at 152, is substantially higher (e.g. France 89, Japan 86, China 82, India 81, Germany 71, and U.K. 56).  Conventional thinkers would say that even though every American’s chance of being killed in a crash is about twice that of citizens from other countries, we drive more than twice as far as they do so our roads are safer per mile driven.  I’m so sick of hearing misleading statistics like that.  It would like saying that Americans exercise less and eat more pounds of highly processed food every year than citizens of other countries and, thus Americans suffer more from various related diseases.  However, conventional thinkers would say we are healthier than citizens in other countries because we have fewer health problems per pound of unhealthy food consumed.  Twisted logic!  Last time I checked, people are being killed in crashes; not miles driven.  God knows how many are injured on the streets and highways in the United States every year.  Now, our emergency responders are doing a great job at the scenes.  I saw that for myself on my way up.  However, my profession, the transportation engineering profession, is doing a terrible job with the big picture; I witnessed that on my way up too.  It reminded me about how important the reform mission is and doing my part in it and why I am away from my family for a while.
Of the four guys who would be sharing the Doebele House, I was the first to arrive.  Sally had mailed me the door key and there was an envelope with my name on it to indicate my bedroom.  I emptied the minivan into my room and returned it with about 10 minutes to go before I’d got charged for an extra day.  I was on the ground.

Orientation for Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University

(The Events in this Post Occurred in May 2011)

Sally Young and Jim Stockard
I was so excited about Orientation; it was going to be a glimpse into life at Harvard.  Sally and Jim organized the orientation and had prepared a full schedule ranging from introductions to briefings, to lunch with faculty, to visiting the library, to photographs, to about two pages of other items.  It would turn out to very enjoyable, enlightening, and exhausting.  By the end, it seemed that it would have been hard to fit any more in.  Frankly, I would not have been able to absorb much more information anyway.  The consensus among the Class of 2012 Fellows was that this was a great primer but the real learning curve would start when we would have to implement all the lessons upon moving in.  Prior to the Orientation, I put together several pages of questions in four categories.  The idea was that it would serve as kind of a check list.
The events started with an informal dinner at Jim’s house along with his charming wife, Sue.  I was the first guest to arrive, unfashionably a few minutes early.  Consequently, I had time to have a nice chat with just Jim and Sue.  I was also given a few small jobs like mixing the salad and opening some wine.  Jim and Sue seemed like very thoughtful and kind people with very positive outlooks on life.  They seemed capable of having an interesting and enjoyable conversation with just about anyone on any subject.  Over the next half hour, Sally, the other Fellows, their significant others, and a couple of past Fellows arrived.  By the way, in the Loeb Fellow diction, significant others are known as “affiliates”.
Jim and Sue’s place was perfect for our first get-together.  There was no big dining room table for all of us to sit around which would have allowed for one conversation.   Instead the group mingled in three connected spaces: the kitchen, an eating area, and the living room.   Everyone knew that they would be getting to know one another very well during the year ahead so there was no urgency to talk to everyone at length.  However, everyone was so insightful and passionate about their angle on the design world that I could have talked to any one of them for ages.

Jim showing the class
around Gund Hall

The tours were great.  Jim conducted them.  We knew we were seeing a fraction of the place but the tours instilled a sense of confidence that there were more than enough resources here for whatever we wanted to do.  The Graduate School of Design (GSD) would be the Loeb Fellows’ base of operation.  We’d have an office there, Jim and Sally’s offices were there.  Gund Hall is the name of the actual building.  It reminded me of a giant stair case that was built in a green house.

Examples of some of the students' work spaces

They call the giant steps “trays” and they are where the students have their workspaces.  It is a neat idea because the layout of the space allows everyone to know what is going on and see other people’s work.  Also, the light is good.

Piper Auditorium with its
enormous projection wall

There are a variety of meeting spaces and lecture halls at the GSD.  The largest one is called Piper Auditorium.  The presentation “screen” is really a blank wall that is about 24 feet tall.  The people in the back row will have no difficultly see the slides.  There are also several places for displays around the building.  During the Orientation, there was a show going on that had several exhibits with clever lighting effects.

One of the temporary exhibits at the GSD
Harvard Yard on a beautiful day in May

My first impression of the campus was that it was a bit of a mixed bag.  It had the Harvard Yard area which conformed to my mental picture of Harvard with the classic old buildings surrounding beautiful quad spaces, filled with canopy trees.  However, the campus isn’t just one area.  The campus spreads out from Harvard Yard in every direction for many blocks with buildings of every scale.  The campus also jumps across the Charles River to the rather sprawling athletic area and Harvard Business School.

Flowering trees everywhere

The main campus area is cut up by a random and confusing network of streets which apparently date back to the original cow paths.  Getting around was very confusing and, to make matters worse, the local traffic officials made most of the streets one-way.  Some of the streets were so narrow that, in order to get on-street parking, the streets had to be one way.  However, it looked like the wider ones were one-way to encourage car traffic to cut through campus which, at first glance, seemed like a really misguided idea to me.  I suspect that the old cow paths were two-way but, then again, how smart are cows?
There were flowering trees everywhere.  We really had lucked out because it was a particularly beautiful time of year to be visiting the area.  It even smelled nice except if you suffered from allergies.  Luckily, I had a few Claritin capsules in my bag.

The Classes of 2011 and 2012 meet

Even the view out of some of the conference rooms were filled with blossoms.  In one such room, we met with the Class of 2011.  I talked to one of the Class of 2011, Bryan Bell.  He used his year mainly to do a business plan.  He also gave me his bike which he apparently rode all year long, even throughout the winter.  He said it was a bit of a beater and that he would not be leaving his lock.  He said the lock was worth more than the bike.  I could hardly wait to see this bike.   The Class of 2012 was finishing up their year and they had all sorts of good advice to pass on to our class.  After a 2.5 hour group conversation which seemed to last only 30 minutes, we broke up into groups of three or four; in my case, two from the Class of 2011 and two from the Class of 2012. 

The lunch room at the GSD, called the

We dispersed to various restaurants around town.  We did not eat at the ChauHaus at the GSD, even though it has great food, because our hosts were sure that we'd have plenty of meals there in the next year.  Peter Park, the former Planning Director for the City of Denver, and I were the incoming pair.  We had the pleasure of having a very nice lunch and some wine with Ana Gelabert-Sanchez, the former Planning Director for the City of Miami, and Tim Stonor, who heads up a group in England, called Space Syntax.  The lunch gave Peter and me a great chance to ask more questions and get into some depth as compared to the earlier meeting with 18 people.

The Doebele House
The Orientation wrapped up with a reception and dinner at the Doebele House, a big old house, only about four blocks east of the GSD.  The house was named after the former Curator of the Loeb Fellowship, Bill Doebele.  It seemed like every building around here gets a name.  I thought, when I get home, my family and I will have to come up with a name for our house.   The Doebele House was one of two locations used to house the Fellows during their year at Harvard.  The Doebele House was used for the people who came alone and the other house, known as the “other house” (it might be the only anonymous building in Harvard’s inventory), was much larger and was divided into various sized apartments to accommodate Fellows who brought families or affiliates.  It was located about 12 blocks west of the GSD and I would not have a chance to go look at it.  However, if the Doebele House was any indication, the other house would also be a nice place in which to reside for a year.

The Loeb Fellowship Classes of 2011 and 2012
 Though the house was large, the ground floor was packed with people; our class, the Class of 2011, Fellows from past years, and affiliates.  On the walls, there were framed posters from seminars and other events conducted by Loeb Fellows.  There were literally dozens of posters, all different sizes, shapes, and layouts; some of them dating from way back; all interesting and all covering important topics from their day. 

The Dining Room in the Doebele House

 The only exception was the dining room.  It was much more formal.  Three of the four walls had pictures of the classes, each class in its own identical frame, arranged in tidy rows, starting in 1975.  I guess the tradition took a few years to get started.  However, Bill Doebele’s picture had part of a wall all to itself.  Frances and John Loeb had the largest picture in the room and it was mounted on the wall behind the head of the table.  

There was plenty of wine at the reception and dinner that night.  I was starting to think that wine was standard at every meal with Loeb Fellows, except for perhaps breakfast.  The wine, the food, the stories, the Harvard survival tips, and people were wonderful.  However, what really surprised me was that without exception, every person I met knew someone whom I already knew.  It became more apparent that night that the world of city design was not all that big and it was highly connected.  The event also reinforced the importance of the new network that our class had just joined.  Jim had talked about an annual lunch for Loeb Fellows from around the world.  Wherever they are on that day, they get together, exchange the secret handshake, and have lunch with their fellow Fellows.  The people at the reception and dinner told me about how much they enjoyed their “extended family” and how helpful it has been for them over the years.  I was starting to appreciate this was way more than taking classes and writing a book.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Notification that Ian Lockwood was Awarded a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University

(The events in this post occurred in April 2011)
I felt good about the interviews but really had no clue about how I faired compared with the other 18 finalists.  Being nominated was cool and making the finals was very cool.  I definitely had my fingers crossed, but there was nothing much else for me to do but wait patiently for the decision.  It came surprisingly quickly.  Sally’s e-mail arrived on April 6th only 10 days after my last interview, at exactly 19 minutes after midnight and well after my bed-time.  Oblivious to the life-altering news that was waiting in my in-box, I slept peacefully.  I woke up at the usual time and went through my normal “in-town” morning routine.  Upon arriving at the office, I said, “Good morning” to Barbara, our friendly multi-tasking receptionist, got my usual glass of water, and went to my desk.  I exchanged the usual pleasantries with Danni and Fabian, who always arrived to the office before me, sat in my chair, hooked up my lap top, and checked my e-mail as per normal.  In my mind, everything was fairly routine until I saw the e-mail from Sally, with the subject line saying, “Congratulations!  You are a Loeb Fellow.”  Bang!  Right in the subject line.
My eyes welled up with tears.  I was happy beyond words.  Five months earlier, Joanne encouraged me to take a shot.  Ben pulled the trigger.  Tim, Dan, and Andrew wrote letters.  I’d submitted my application and was interviewed.  AECOM, my colleagues, and my family were supportive in so many ways and at so many levels the entire time.  And the shot hit the bull’s eye.  We had done it!  I was a Loeb Fellow.  This was no longer a normal day.
Silently, I rose from my chair and walked slowly to a spot about half way between Danni’s and Fabian’s desks and, seemingly, about six inches off the floor.  Danni was highly focused on her computer but Fabian noticed me approach and looked up to address me.  As soon as he saw my face, he smiled and said, “You got the Loeb Fellowship, didn’t you?”  Wow, I thought, this guy does have ESP and I replied, “Why do say that?”  He said, “I know you.  I can tell.”  So I fessed up and said, “Yes, I just heard, just now.”  Danni chimed in with a voice about an octave higher than her normal voice and at about twice her normally fast speaking pace,“Yeh!-You-got-it-Congratulations!-I’m-so-proud-of-you!-That’s-so-great.”
I had to tell my wife.  I returned to my chair.  The call went something like this.  Joanne answers her phone, “Hello”.  Short pause. Ian says, “I got it.”   Joanne screams… 
For the next several days, I wanted to spread the word from the roof tops.  However, I couldn’t.  Sally asked me to not spread the news widely because the results had not reached the unsuccessful finalists.  Every successful finalist had to officially accept their offer with an acceptance letter, prior to Sally informing the unsuccessful finalists.  This was necessary in case any of the successful finalists could not accept the Fellowship for whatever reason.  Then Sally could make the offer to the next candidate(s) on her list.  My acceptance letter was written, scanned, and e-mailed within an hour of learning about this requirement.
I did as Sally requested and only told my references, Tim, Dan, and Andrew, as well as Ben and my family.  I also sent an internal office e-mail to my colleagues so that they would get the correct information all at the same time.  After that, and after the acceptances were complete, the news of my Fellowship spread and the reaction was like after my nomination but times five.  I had no idea how fast news travels and how many people would be excited about this opportunity.  E-mails and calls came from diverse geographies, clients, friends, colleagues, and even people whom I’d never met. 
After that, Sally and Jim sent several letters and e-mails about preparing.  They covered everything from health care, to key dates, to finances, to housing, to, “Are you bringing your family?”  The Loeb Fellowship program is so cool that Harvard offered to house my whole family, if that was our desire.  Sally would even help find schools for our children.  Unbelievable!  The opportunities seemed endless.  This was new territory in my circles so my office, Joanne, and I had lots of questions, all of which would hopefully be answered in an upcoming multi-day, on-site, orientation.  Harvard planned to fly the whole Class of 2012, from wherever we were around the world, to Cambridge from May 5th to 8th.

Interviews by the Loeb Fellowship Curator and Coordinator, Harvard Faculty, and a Loeb Alumni/ae

(The events in this post occurred in March 2011)
Throughout January and February, I remained content with being nominated and the direction that I had set for myself through my application.  Then, in early March, while I was sitting at my desk, another e-mail arrived from Sally.  Momentarily, nothing else mattered except for the need to open that e-mail.  It began with, “Congratulations, you’ve been selected as a finalist for the Loeb Fellowship!”  A broad and indelible smile appeared on my face.  I read the balance of the letter which provided information for three upcoming interviews, after which the final selection would be made.  I was extremely happy that my message had been received favorably.  I was one of 19 finalists and nine would be awarded Fellowships.  Now, it was time to deliver in person.
The first interview would be with Sally and Jim; the second with Professor Mark Mulligan, with Harvard’s Graduate School of Design; and the third with Camilla Ween, a Fellow from the Class of 2008 and a high level transportation and land use planner with Transport for London, England.  I had an inkling that these people would conduct very good interviews.
The first two interviews could be conducted either by Skype or in person.  The third would be conducted by Skype. I chose Skype for all three interviews due to the cost of travel and ease of scheduling.  Despite the scheduling flexibility, finding mutually convenient times was tricky; these folks were busy.  A little wrinkle was that the firm did not permit Skype to be used on any of its computers due to a small but real concern about security.  Also, I did not know how to Skype.  Consequently, I had to get Skype at home, learn it, and do all the interviews from there.
I shared the news of the short-listing with my closest colleagues and family.  Everyone was as supportive, or more supportive, now that I had advanced a step.  Most people thought my odds of a favorable outcome were elevated because the finalists were in the interview stage.  The idea was that, being a consultant, interviewing was a normal part of my life.  However, having learned more about the “average Loeb Fellow”, I suspected that all the finalists would be comfortable with interviews.  Furthermore, I’m normally interviewing to help other people; this time, I was interviewing to get help myself but, at the same time, reinforce my potential.  Tim and Ben gave me great advice which I really appreciated.  What I appreciated even more was their enthusiastic encouragement.
Joe Brown
Landscape Architect &
Urban Designer
Tim also mentioned the pursuit to some senior people at AECOM.  As a result, one day, a phone call was arranged between me and Joe Brown.  He wanted to talk to me about the Loeb Fellowship.  This was very cool.  I had heard that Joe was likely the most accomplished landscape architect that I had ever met.  We’d met for about five seconds when we shook hands when he visited our office in early 2010.  Joe had been the head of the firm, EDAW, until joining with AECOM.  Joe is now AECOM’s Chief Innovation Officer.  Over his multi-decade career, Joe’s contributions to landscape architecture and urban design were huge.  When he spoke to our office gathering during his 2010 visit, he was soft-spoken but had conviction.  His passion for people, with roots in any profession, to make positive change to the built and natural environments was contagious.  I thought to myself, this guy is the real deal, no wonder he is able to make a difference.
Prior to the call, I learned that Joe was already very familiar with the Loeb Fellowship, having attended and taught at Harvard.  There was no need for me to describe the Fellowship to him since he likely knew more about it than I did.  I was really looking forward to the call even though I did not know how much time had had budgeted nor what he wanted to cover.  I was ready for anything from a short call with him saying, “Good luck and work hard” to who knows what?  We ended up speaking for over 45 minutes about a variety of topics.  Based on this, my one and only conversation with Joe Brown, it was evident that he had given a great deal of thought to a range of urban design subjects; he easily cut to the chase on every one of them.  What was pleasing to me, was that he was interested in the integration of transportation and land use and the related reforms.  Also pleasing to me, was his excitement for employing and spreading sound urban design principles to help cities all over the world.  That sounded like exactly what I would love to do, but through a Livable Transportation lens.  Mostly, he genuinely wanted to use the call to impart some wisdom to me about getting the most out of my time at Harvard so that I could be a more effective change agent when I was done.  He summarized his key advice in two words: “avoid distractions.”  He didn’t mean the Animal House toga parties or beer drinking sort of thing.  He meant drilling down to what the real issues were.  Get past the rhetoric, the noise, and the insignificant stuff in order to expose the nerve.  I thought, now that was good advice and that is exactly what I am going to do, with only the odd frat party thrown in now and again.
Prior to the interviews, I felt prepared.  Before each one, I reviewed the material, which I had gathered in December, and glanced through my copy of my application.  I knew exactly where everything was in case of a specific question.  I also turned off my mobile phone and asked my wife and kids to please find something to do somewhere away from the house for a couple of hours so that there was close to a zero possibility of background noise, distractions, or interruptions.
Sally and Jim did a great interview.  It was clear that they had a ton of experience speaking with hopeful candidates.  The introduction provided a structure for the interview.  The atmosphere was sincere and comfortable.  I couldn’t actually see Sally because she was outside of their camera’s field-of-view but Jim was prominent.  He didn’t appear to be using any notes but his questions were great.  He honed in on several transportation topics from my application and went two to three questions deeper than most people would.  That was quite impressive and displayed a healthy curiosity about a field that wasn’t necessarily his passion.
When I returned to the office, the two people who sit closest to me, Danni Hirsh and Fabian De La Espriella asked me how the interview went, followed quickly by “Did they let you know?”  However, they really didn’t need to ask the questions; I could tell by the expressions on their faces what they wanted to know.
Danni Hirsh
(from our group's rather fun
bulletin board)
We have an open format office.  Our three desks are aligned and Danni’s desk is between Fabian’s and mine.  Danni and Fabian had, more or less, front row seats to my pursuit of a Fellowship.  Over the months, we had had dozens conversations about it and they’d heard plenty of snippets of related calls and other conversations.  Next to my wife, Danni and Fabian were closest people to the day-to-day goings-on with the Fellowship and were sincerely interested in any news.
Danni is a young, cheerful, enthusiastic, and brilliant transportation engineer.  She is totally comfortable and fluent in the increasingly digital world of transportation engineering but also wants to know the ideas and background behind the interfaces so she can further develop her own judgment; something I find refreshing in young engineers.  She also does not accept ideas at face value; she needs to know “Why?”  I hope she never loses that quality.
Fabian De La Espriella
(from our group's rather fun
bulletin board)
Though Fabian works regularly with the other groups at the office, he has been my right hand guy on most of my projects over the last few years.  He is from Columbia and has an architectural and urban design background but has developed a thorough knowledge of Livable Transportation. I keep forgetting that he has just under a decade of experience because of his dependability, capabilities, and breadth.  He can fulfill practically any role during charrettes, guide the younger staff, and almost as if he has ESP, he knows what design direction makes sense.  He loves the arts, he manages complex projects, he renders, and he undoubtedly has a great career ahead of him.
So, when I returned from my interview, I knew that it would be our first conversation before anything else could get done.  I said that I thought that the interview went well but really had nothing to compare it to.  Sally and Jim provided no indication about what they thought about my odds and rightly so.  They were very polite and professional.  At the same time, they had an empathetic quality to them; they knew what I was going through and made the interview much more comfortable than it could have been.  I also confessed to Danni and Fabian that I had an uncanny feeling that they were always a deduction or two ahead of me, the whole time; these people were smart and experienced (which was, of course, consistent with the fact that they were at Harvard University doing what they do).
 Professor Mark Mulligan’s interview was very enjoyable.  He was so upbeat.  He could immediately see opportunities and overlap between his own work/studios and my interests and we had a great discussion about related issues in an Asian context.  The interview almost felt like a brain-storming session.  He’d have a question, I’d provide an answer, then we’d explore it, he’d have ideas about how to explore it further, and so on.  After that interview, I thought that, if Professor Mulligan was a typical professor at Harvard, then there would be no limit to the possible avenues to take during the Fellowship.

Camilla Ween with her Loef Fellowship Class of 2008

Camilla Ween’s interview was the hardest for me.  Unlike the first two interviews, the audio at my end was a bit spotty and, occasionally, I had to ask her to repeat herself, which I hoped was not too bothersome for her.  There was also a small delay in both the audio and video transmission which was just long enough for us to start sentences simultaneously and then simultaneously gesture for the other to finish and then we’d both start our sentences again.  However, it was still amazing that we were, more or less, having a face-to-face conversation with an ocean between us.  Despite the distance, philosophically, I felt quite close to her.  She was definitely a kindred spirit. Her main concern about my transportation reform ideas was the sheer magnitude of the problem in the United States and the tilted playing field over here.  It was so nice to get an independent and well-articulated verification of the magnitude of the problem from someone who is so knowledgeable and a world-class leader in my profession.  She was dead on; it was a tough challenge.  And that was exactly why I wanted to do the Fellowship.   I also mentioned that our Livable Transportation group had already achieved several successes in parts of America, in all the basic contexts (rural, suburban, and urban), despite the tilted playing field.  The real challenge would be spreading the ideas, scaling things up, leveling the playing field to make it easy for all cities to do the right thing, and making a new normal.  Lastly, we discussed that, in North America, it took about five decades for the originally untested conventional transportation paradigm to demonstratively and repeatedly fail on so many levels.  I assured her that nobody was expecting to develop a silver bullet that would solve such a giant problem quickly.