Stevens Alumnus Aims to Improve New Jersey Cities through Transit-Oriented Development

1/3/2014

The collective desire to lead healthier lifestyles, enjoy open space, be rid of long and stressful commutes and sustain the environment have sparked a movement toward walkable cities, where people live in close proximity to stores, schools, jobs, parks and public transportation.  

Stevens alumnus Michael Manzella ’09 hopes to improve New Jersey’s urban areas by making mass transit more effective, convenient and available in downtowns state-wide.

“Technical expertise in the city planning field is rare,” said Manzella, who earned his B.E. in Engineering Management from Stevens in 2009. “People with an engineering background can really make a difference in our built environment, making transportation systems more effective.”

Manzella will earn his master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University in the spring of 2014, with a concentration in Transportation Planning and Policy – an area where he already has significant professional experience.  Recently, he completed an internship at NJ TRANSIT, the state’s major public transportation system which operates bus, light rail and commuter rail services.

“I helped the director of transit-oriented development with the creation of a regional, sustainable transportation plan for New Jersey,” Manzella said.

Manzella’s interest in urban planning began at Stevens when he took a course on the history of metropolitan development which looked closely at the issue of sprawl in post-World War II U.S. cities.

“It was fascinating to learn about how America’s cities have been built and grown and all of the inefficiencies that have developed over the decades,” he said.

An engineering management major with strong computer engineering skills and a knack for people and project management, Manzella took a few years to settle into his ideal career path – but it wasn’t for lack of the opportunity.

Despite graduating at the peak of the recession, Manzella secured a job a full semester before commencement at Hamilton Sundstrand (now UTC Aerospace Systems), where he had worked during his undergraduate years as a member of the Stevens Cooperative Education program.

“The economy was doing really poorly but I had a job lined up in fall of 2008 because my supervisors at Hamilton liked what I did during my Co-op assignment,” he said.

At the time, Manzella’s resume already impressed.

Through Co-op, he had professional experience in email support at Lehman Brothers, industrial engineering and logistics at UPS, and advanced aerospace project management at Hamilton Sundstrand.

His leadership skills also were clearly evident (he was president of the Student Government Association), as was his academic success (he received several scholarships and was a member of top honors societies.

Even his senior design project, improving traffic safety in Hoboken, hinted at his future calling.

“Stevens is extremely valuable in helping you find what you want to do and giving you a head start in the work force and getting the jobs you really want,” said Manzella.

Manzella worked as a project manager on space vehicle, submarine and commercial aircraft product development teams for three years at Hamilton Sundstrand before deciding to pursue his master’s and take the first steps toward his new career.  

He said his Stevens education will make the transition easy.

“More so than any other school, Stevens exposes you to the larger issues and teaches you how to solve all facets of different, complex problems,” he said. “There is a lot of opportunity to get knowledge and experience about how things actually work outside of the classroom and in the real world.”