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Spotlight on Kate Gasparro, Ph.D `19: In Her Own Words

Friday, March 27, 2020

Infrastructure systems are a critical part of our communities. Most people think about them when sitting in traffic, cleaning-out refrigerators during energy outages, and hearing about limited capacity in our hospitals. Since an early age, I have thought about infrastructure systems every day. Growing up with civil engineers, I was lectured at length about the value of infrastructure and the challenges my parents faced building new transit systems and expanding airport terminals. I studied math and physics while thinking about bridges, water systems, and skyscrapers. When given the chance, I dove into studying civil engineering. But, I soon found out, through internships and my work with Engineers Without Borders, that infrastructure was more than design and construction.

The real ability to deliver sustainable and resilient infrastructure systems requires an interdisciplinary approach that bridges policy, management, and engineering. With this intersection in mind, I applied to Stanford to work with the Global Projects Center. The GPC is one of the world’s premier research centers that focuses on the delivery of infrastructure systems, moving beyond technical challenges to address underlying management, financial, and policy challenges that threaten most projects. As a result, the GPC team brings together diverse experts who are changing industry, from identifying new contracting methods to defining smart city policies.

With the resources and incredible support of the GPC, I focused my work around stakeholder dynamics and their influence on infrastructure delivery. I studied how innovative financing strategies, like crowdfunding, create new types of stakeholder partnerships and impact the management and delivery of community infrastructure assets. This work was informed by my experience with infrastructure delivery in China, Uganda, Mexico, Argentina, the UK, and many cities in the United States. In each place, I worked directly with local partners to understand stakeholder dynamics and infrastructure innovation. My research has sought to distill countless conversations and data points into meaning and insights for improving infrastructure delivery. This has resulted in many publications- some in academic journal articles (like this one), and others in magazines, podcasts, and online outlets (just a few examples). But, my dissertation, Crowdfunding Our Cities, is the most comprehensive read and this new online, interactive tool illustrates just how crowdfunding infrastructure affects communities. This past year, I finished a research project on Crowdfund London and won a PMI grant with Drs. Vedran Zerjav and Effie Konstantinou. As a result of my breadth of work, I have been invited globally to make presentations, won numerous fellowships and grants, and selected to be a participant in the UN's 2018 Innovation Lab.

In September, I began working with FivePoint, a firm that partners with local governments to build sustainable and equitable communities in coastal California. Developers within the San Francisco Bay Area (and other urbanizing regions) are facing challenges, from rising construction costs, complex city processes and policies, sea level rise and environmental concerns, and challenging community dynamics. After studying project deliver for five years, I now apply my research findings amid one of California’s most dynamic and complex development projects as part of a public-private partnership.

This journey has been so special because it integrates lessons learned from incredible colleagues and partners I have worked with throughout the years. Without this collective knowledge, none of this work would have been possible. I’m eager to learn more about the communities and projects you work with, your interest in innovative infrastructure delivery, and how we can collaborate. You can continue to follow my work on my personal website, LinkedIn, and Twitter. I hope my work continues to reflect and inform the difficult work of building communities through infrastructure delivery, especially in the face of climate change, resource depletion, and challenging inter/intranational relations.