Dimitri Kittrell

Although only beginning his collegiate journey, Dimitri Kittrell is a man with a plan.

The native of Little Rock, Ark., just completed his freshman year in the Gerald May Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering at UNM and this summer will be heading to another part of the country — the East Coast — to participate in the RIDE (Research for Inclusivity and Driving Equity Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The RIDE REU provides undergraduate students with an immersive and interdisciplinary experience in community-engaged research focused on improving the transportation experience for underserved and underrepresented communities. Students in the program participate in research in civil engineering, health policy, industrial engineering, information management, legal studies, psychology and regional planning.

Students are provided with a stipend, housing, travel expenses, professional development seminars and field trips to destinations like the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. The program will run June 3 through Aug. 2.

The goal of RIDE is to help remove disparities in transportation that disproportionately harm underserved and underrepresented groups. Projects are geared toward decreasing inequities, with knowledge that mobility leads to equity and the fact that ensuring a reliable, affordable and consistent form of transportation leads to greater employment, higher education, quality health care and food, social and civic engagement and participation in everyday activities.

Kittrell will work with faculty at the Center for Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety, including center director Nick Ferenchak, an assistant professor in the Gerald May Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering.

Kittrell, who came from a family of nurses, is blazing new trails with an engineering career. He said that working in improving transportation is a dream of his.

“I’m invested in transportation. I see it as a physical way of connecting people to resources,” he said. “Cars, trains and all modes of transportation impact the environment and health.”

Some of the areas he is looking forward to working in are analyzing how AI works in the trucking industry, as well as generally ways to improve transportation and prevent crashes. He said this summer research opportunity is a perfect fit, and he’s eager to learn as much as he can.

“I’m looking forward to gaining insights into professional work,” he said.

He said he chose to attend UNM for several reasons, including the unique opportunities at the Center for Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety at an R1 university; strong scholarship benefits he was offered; and the chance to live in a completely different part of the country. Also, he said his aunt is from New Mexico and he always considered it an “inclusive place.”

Kittrell is no stranger to conducting research, even before entering college. In high school, he conducted research on gun violence.

At UNM, Kittrell has already found a great support system. In addition to diving into classes and research, he has found a mentor in a civil engineering undergraduate, Jaimie Ritchie. He said after he took an introductory course in civil engineering from Anjali Mulchandani, assistant professor in the department, he knew civil engineering was the right major for him.

“There are incredible networking opportunities at UNM,” he said.

In his spare time, he enjoys going for walks, exploring new territory, leaving “no stone unturned” and admits he often “gets lost daydreaming.”

In the fall semester, Kittrell will be conducting research with Ferenchak and other faculty members at the Center for Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety, in particular looking at pedestrian crossings in Albuquerque’s International District and how to make them safer.

Longer term, he said he is interested in graduate school, but in the meantime, is enjoying the ride.

“I have a good group of people around me, and I am lucky to have these opportunities,” he said.