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The road ahead

MES in the Community, Jesse Buerk

One Penn alumnus paves the way for connectivity.

“There is an amazing confluence of smart, dedicated people in the Philadelphia area who want to do good work for the environment—and I’m thrilled my job is a part of that,” shares Jesse Buerk (Master of Environmental Studies ’08), Senior Capital Program Coordinator for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC). He explains, “My department plays a significant role in making our region more multi-modal and encouraging multiple modes of transportation.”

Jesse’s work ranges from large-scale projects like the ongoing rehabilitation of I-95 to smaller projects like building pedestrian connections for better access to train lines. He notes, “Some transit stations might be a quarter-mile from your house, but there’s no safe way to walk there, so you drive, and then there are only 10 parking spaces. We’re working on low-cost improvements that can make significant impacts.”

Initiatives like these lower congestion by getting more cars off the road and make a measurable difference in environmental health. “Transportation generates enormous amounts of emissions that could be avoided. If communities are better linked, we can also lower the rate of land development and preserve our natural resources.”

The I-95 reconstruction involves reconnecting neighborhoods and eliminating spots where lanes drop out and cause bottlenecks. “The way I-95 was built—something like that would never happen now,” Jesse shares. “The current project addresses the city street network and how it interacts with the highway, making better connections to the Delaware River.”

Before working for DVRPC, the Lower Merion native was an aspiring filmmaker. “I hit a professional crossroad,” he recalls, “Environmental issues have always been important to me and it felt like the right time to get a master’s degree. I met with an advisor at Penn and the flexibility as well as the practicality of the Master of Environmental Studies (MES) program were major deciding factors.”

He continues, “One of my first classes was Urban Sprawl with Patrick Starr who is the Executive Vice President of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. We studied the DVRPC Long-Range Plan, and I saw that it was the kind of thing I wanted to do. I connected with DVRPC right away and ended up landing an internship in the congestion management and safety department.”

By joining the MES program, Jesse not only secured a career at DVRPC after graduation, but he also found a network of like-minded peers. “The MES program opened my eyes to a lot of issues and introduced me to some of my closest friends and my wife. It was an inspiring opportunity.”