Community Spotlight: Q&A with Kevin Saavedra

Who are you?

My name is Kevin Saavedra, and I am a GIS & Planning Analyst at the Campus Planning Office. I completed my undergraduate work in Geography and City & Regional Planning at U.C. Berkeley, and I have a Master of City Planning degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. Prior to accepting my current position at PSU, I worked as an urban planner and GIS analyst at a small city planning and urban design firm in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I specialized in transportation planning and Complete Streets projects. So I suppose I'm one of those California transplants I hear so much about.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I'm working on PSU's Open Space Plan in partnership with the Campus Sustainability Office and under guidance from our director, Jason Franklin. One of the challenges with being an urban campus is that open spaces tend to be treated as afterthoughts when compared with new building construction or renovation of existing buildings. This document is intended to better integrate any future construction on campus with clear ideas about where new open spaces can be created, or where they should be preserved. It's an important task also because our University Mission Statement emphasizes sustainability, and open spaces in the urban environment is one of its most visible aspects. The Open Space Plan has taken up a bulk of my efforts lately, but when not working on it, I'm maintaining our Campus Map and responding to general requests for GIS data. Additionally, I'm continuously trying to automate our office's data handling capabilities especially as it pertains to classroom space and efficiency, which is another responsibility of the Campus Planning Office.

What's the one thing you want the sustainability community to know about what you're doing?

I'm interested in what new technology can bring to our sustainability work. One of the reasons I relocated to Portland is due to a grant I received from the State of Oregon to study computer programming as it pertained to GIS and urban planning goals. Outside of work, I've been an active volunteer with Hack Oregon and their current Civic Apps platform, which is an attempt to unify City of Portland data sets about housing, budget, emergency response, transportation and homelessness onto a single interactive mapping application. I've been a part of their transportation "Technical A-Team" since October and have helped write the GIS processing in Python on the back end. In working on this project I've become further interested in using datascience techniques such as machine learning on large civic datasets, especially as more become publicly available. Uber is about to roll out trip data, for example, and Biketown should have about a year's worth of data to sift through. Particularly as demographics begin to change, you can begin to see the possibility of using this information to write better sustainability plans or policies.

Who is one person that inspires you to do the work that you do? Why?

I've been fortunate to take a datascience class with Lindsay Mico, a current PSU graduate student in Systems Science. I've seen him utilize homelessness data from the City of Portland and integrate it with various statistical analysis and GIS modeling tools to generate a much clearer picture of the issue and better help us make more informed decisions as a community. He's really helped to open my eyes to the technical possibilities of large data processing and the information we can glean from it, and adding a geospatial component to things just makes it all the more interesting and relevant to my job. He's certainly made me want to integrate more of these advanced tools to help with our campus planning and sustainability work.

How has PSU helped you achieve your professional goals?

I'm impressed with the quality of work done by our three graduate student employees, and their contributions definitely show on the work products they produce for our office. They've certainly made my job a lot easier, and they're a pleasure to work with. I'm also happy with the support and encouragement I've received for my professional development outside of work. I took a GPS class with Dr. Martin Lafrenz last fall, a datascience class with Lindsay Mico that I mentioned above, and the 10-15 hours a week I volunteer with Hack Oregon would not have been possible without a flexible work schedule that the Campus Planning Office allows me.  With all this support, I'm happy to keep learning.