Students write prize-winning essays for MTS scholarship contest

YJ Si, News Editor

In an award ceremony held by San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) for a scholarship contest, Daniel Shaw (11), one of the winners, was invited to make a short statement.

“The fact that so many of our workers need to take public transit shows that it is an essential part of San Diego’s economic development,” Shaw said.

From March 2 to April 10, San Diego MTS hosted a contest in which participants were prompted to write a persuasive essay outlining challenges within San Diego, and how effective public transit could provide solutions to them. Out of more than 170 participants, 40 writers won the HP laptop and Coca-Cola backpack prize, including Westview students Shaw, Katherine Han (12), and Kayla Lankford (12). They each picked up their prizes at San Diego MTS headquarters.

Lankford heard about the competition through a friend, and with Mother’s Day coming up at the time, wanted to give her mother a gift. She explored how COVID-19 was affecting public transit and its future because of this pandemic.

“I feel like people would be more hesitant to use public transportation with all the social distancing that we do now,” she said. “Researching this topic really made me think about how public transportation could change a lot [after this crisis is over].”

Han saw the competition as a great opportunity to own a new computer, as she will be attending the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. With the stay-at-home orders in place, she decided that writing the essay would be worthwhile, and in the process, gained new insights on the importance of public transit. She covered topics such as trolley lines to the airport, an Uber-esque system for buses, and switching buses to run on electricity for the sake of environmental protection.

“Since we live in the suburbs, I think public transportation is a foreign concept to us,” she said. “It was interesting to see such a different world through doing the research on the topic.”

Shaw, with his participation in local government and other various public policy engagements, also wanted to learn more about the way public transit functions and ways that it could function better. While being sure to explain his points in context, Shaw wrote about expanding bus routes into more suburban areas, as well as public transit’s effects on income inequality. He made sure to research each topic thoroughly before writing the essay—scouring academic journals as well as statistics on his specific topics.

“Public transit isn’t just about getting from point A to point B,” he said. “[While researching to write the essay], it was really interesting seemingly minor public policy changes can have a major impact on the economy.”

With new insights into the bustling world of public transit, and a new laptop and backpack in the process, Shaw is glad he took part in the contest.

“Incidentally, after I finished writing the essay, my laptop at the time died,” he said. “Even with [the physical reward of the laptop], what really was rewarding was getting to learn more about public transit and public policy along the way.”