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Home » Discover Rackham » Student Spotlight: Gustavo Serratos

Gustavo is a big advocate for graduate student involvement on campus, and he knows what he’s talking about. As a first year Master’s student living in Northwood, he says, “I was one of those students who went from my school to Northwood and back. I didn’t really have any interaction with people outside my program. I thought, why come to U-M if I don’t want to take advantage of the resources here?” So Gustavo applied to be a Munger Fellow at the newly opening Munger Residence Hall last year, and it transformed his experience and view of graduate education at U-M.

“Now I meet and work with people from all disciplines. It’s one of the best opportunities I’ve had here at U-M. Munger is such a new space; it provides opportunities for involvement and input. I get the chance to work with students from dentistry to law to business. It has helped me grow my perspective,” he explains.

Gustavo is pursuing a Master’s in Urban Planning with a concentration in transportation planning. His passion is transportation policy particularly as it relates to equitable and sustainable transportation. “It is truly heartbreaking to see the divisions in equity related to transportation,” he shares. Gustavo states that “transportation systems are more than just a way to get around, they are an essential part of a community, city and region. Transportation plays a large role in social equity, housing, land use patterns and economic development.”

Through his urban planning capstone project, Gustavo and a cohort of his peers traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil to work with Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto (MTST), a social movement that aims to address the large need for affordable housing in the City. The team conducted extensive surveys of those affected by the lack of housing and will compile the data so MTST can continue advocating for housing with a better understanding of their participants and their needs.

He completed his undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering at Wayne State with a concentration in transportation engineering and worked for about three years when he began to notice things going on in transportation that sparked his curiosity. He explains, “As engineers, we’re very technical and focused on problem solving. We don’t always have the chance to look outside the box and see the larger picture of transportation and development. I enjoy how urban planning looks at the impacts development has on people and places.” That’s how he found transportation planning and looked into the faculty research being done at U-M.

Gustavo has continued to work as a transportation engineer for the Michigan Department of Transportation while pursuing his Master’s degree. When he graduates in May, he’ll continue his work there, but bring a greater perspective to his job. He says, “My long term goal is to use engineering and now urban planning to promote more equitable transportation in Michigan and share the wealth of knowledge I’ve gained from urban planning. I aspire to provide resources that challenge people to think about transportation equity, housing policies, poverty and a lot of topics that are outside the realm of traditional engineering. I want to use a combination of civil engineering and urban planning to tackle these issues and help people.”

Finding time to make the most of campus, enjoying transdisciplinary conversations in Munger, completing his coursework, and doing his job has been a challenging time management project. He describes, “At times, really most of the time, balancing it all has been really stressful, but my employer and program have been great. I’m lucky. There are not a lot of funding options as a master’s student, but I’ve been fortunate. I received the Munger Coleman Fellowship that helped with my housing costs and this semester received the Rackham Non-Traditional Student Fellowship. The Rackham fellowship was really great and helped partially relieve the financial stresses that many of my graduate peers have experienced.”

As a Junior Coleman-Munger Fellow, Gustavo is tasked with resident engagement and creating a transdisciplinary environment while representing the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. He’s enjoyed the role and has provided countless opportunities for transdisciplinary learning in the building. He continues, “With my suitemates, we each shared our respective areas of interest and research through informal presentations. The get-togethers grew and we invited people from other suites and around the building, whoever wanted to listen and learn. It has been an amazing opportunity. I’ve learned about space research, biology, information and statistics, to name a few. When I reach out to students in other programs and promote Munger and the great experiences living there has to offer, many people think they don’t have time, and I thought that too going in. The more you reach out, the more you realize this is a vital part of your education.”

He continues, “I encourage grad students to get out there more and not necessarily spend time just doing your research. It’s very easy to consume yourself in what you’re doing, but you need to get out and see what else is going on at the university. It is so easy to say ‘I can’t do it, my work is more important,’ but definitely on weekends, afternoons, and whenever you get a chance, go to see the astronomy show at Angell Hall, attend UMix and find lectures to attend. That is the Michigan difference.”

Despite what can be a hectic juggling act at times, Gustavo says, “Graduate school has been a great experience. I’m so happy I got to study Urban Planning at U-M. I’ve met so many awesome people and had the chance to do so many great things. I live with a diverse group of six other people from all over the world, from India, China, Brazil and all over the U.S. It’s amazing how I traveled all the way to learn about a movement in the city where one of my suitemates grew up and got to tell him all about it. At the same time my suitemate from India got to do an externship here in Detroit, very close to where I grew up and was able to share with me about an organization I also knew little about. It has been a full circle experience that broadened my world but at the same time made it feel small. Everywhere I go see the block M.”

“The professors here are passionate about their work, and you really get the chance to work with them and get to know them well. During my two years here, I have been in so many great lectures and took part in so many great conversations thanks to my program and peers, this has really inspired me to further my education and looking into getting a Ph.D.”