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One-to-one: Transportation planners discuss light rail

One-to-one is a section of News + Views where alumni interview each other and current students. Everyone has a story to tell, from their personal interests or advocacy to professional pathways and passions. And who better to tell that story than alumni? Each article is as different as the graduates who write them. If you would like to interview a fellow graduate for a future edition, please e-mail


When MetroTransit's Green Line begins service in 2014, light-rail transit (LRT) trains running every 10 minutes will connect downtown St. Paul, St. Paul neighborhoods, the University of Minnesota, and downtown Minneapolis. It's been a long time coming but talking with the planners and engineers involved gives one a sense that the Hiawatha and Central Corridors are just the beginning. A number of Humphrey School alumni have key roles in the next generation of transit in the Twin Cities. This month, alumni board member Todd Graham (M.Plan. '94) talked with Robin Caufman (MURP '98) about her experience with the Central Corridor and, more recently, the Southwest Corridor project.


Graham: What's your role with the MetroTransit's LRT system?
Caufman: As assistant director for administration, communication, and outreach for Southwest LRT and Central Corridor LRT, I oversee communication activities and outreach efforts for both projects. This includes a wide range of responsibilities, from making sure that the project office is functional, to maintaining the website, to implementing an inclusive outreach strategy.

Graham: What inspired you to get into this kind of work?  
Caufman: My initial role on the Central Corridor LRT was managing the public involvement team. Starting years before the ground was broken, our team engaged with neighborhoods and the University Avenue business community, setting expectations for what the Central Corridor would mean for the community, and bringing public input and public response back to policymakers.

My current position was a good opportunity to apply two of my passions—working with people and making a lasting difference in the Twin Cities metro area. After graduating from the Humphrey School in 2001, I started working at the Metropolitan Council as a sector representative. In September 2006, I transferred to the Central Corridor Project Office as the manager of public involvement. In November 2011, I was promoted to assistant director for both the Southwest and Central Corridors.

Graham: Who has been a mentor or supporter in your career?
Caufman: Tess Galati is one of my mentors. I met Tess in 2004 through several continuing education classes offered through the Metropolitan Council. She taught classes related to strategic communication and writing for the information age. I also worked closely with Tess on the first online version of the Metropolitan Council’s Local Planning Handbook that provided instructions to cities for preparing decennial comprehensive plans. Tess taught me many lessons, including the importance of nonverbal communication, how to handle difficult conversations, and how to communicate in order to influence.

Graham: Your work with the Southwest and Central Corridors extends way beyond land planning. Has your Humphrey School education been valuable in your current job?
Caufman: I have applied many skills and lessons I learned at Humphrey School. I apply professional communications skills on a daily basis. I remember how hard it was to complete assignments that required students to prepare a one-page memo that summarized an issue and offered a recommended course of action. I am frequently asked to summarize a policy issue and recommend a solution on very short notice. I think this is such a necessary skill in the public sector that I incorporated one-page memos into the homework I assigned when I taught Urban Land Use Planning at Humphrey School in 2007 and 2008.

Graham: Last question, how soon can I catch a ride on the Green Line LRT to St. Paul?
Construction is wrapping up. Green Line service will start in mid-2014.