Class of 2017: Marc Chen studies transportation’s role in improving communities

Marc Chen is a Chancellor's Scholar. (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt)
Marc Chen is a Chancellor’s Scholar. (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt)

Marc Chen wants to use data to make cities work better for everyone. Chen, a math and economics major, believes there’s a wealth of untapped data out there waiting to be mined that could help public policymakers understand how their decisions affect the well-being of city residents.

“The way in which we regulate urban development has huge potential to create more inclusive, economically empowering places to live,” he said.

That’s the motivation behind Chen’s senior thesis, which analyzed how Metro Nashville’s public transit system affects economic segregation throughout the region. The research required him to draw on disciplines as disparate as computer programming, economics, cultural analysis and civil rights.

“It really showed me what a liberal arts education makes you capable of,” he said. Chen’s work was advised by Professor of Economics Mario Crucini and was supported by the Littlejohn Research Fellowship, which pairs undergraduates with faculty to perform original research.

Vanderbilt’s commitment to building strong campus communities is one of the things that brought Chen here from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. When he arrived, he began to study his father’s native language, Chinese, for the first time, and he opted to live in McTyeire International House, which offers a language-immersion experience.

Being surrounded by fellow students committed to learning a difficult language together made McTyeire “a perfect example of what a living-learning community should be,” he said. The experience prepared him to study in Beijing and even enabled him to improve his relationship with his Chinese-speaking grandmother.

Chen gained a whole new understanding of his Asian American heritage by joining Vanderbilt’s Asian American Student Association. It also opened his eyes to the diversity within the Asian American community. “[rquote]I’m so grateful to have been a part of these communities that have challenged me to become a more empathetic, thoughtful person,”[/rquote] he said. “It taught me that investing in a community is work, but it’s so worth it.”

After graduation, Chen will return to China through the Schwarzman Scholarship Program to study public policy in an international master’s degree program at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. It’s a challenge he’s ready to take on thanks to his study of Chinese and his undergraduate research experience.

“Research not only shows you how important all the things you’ve learned are, but also how much you still need to learn,” he said. “Vanderbilt is just the beginning.”