Student Spotlight: Erin Roark Murphy, University of Texas at Arlington

NITC Student Spotlight - 2019 March Erin Roark Murphy.png

Erin Roark Murphy, University of Texas at Arlington

Erin Roark Murphy, LMSW, is a doctoral student in the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA). She is a NITC student scholar and has worked as a graduate research assistant on several NITC-funded projects, including "Evaluating Improved Transit Connections for Ladders of Opportunity" and "How Can Interdisciplinary Teams Leverage Emerging Technologies to Respond to Infrastructure Needs? A Mixed-Methods Evaluation of Civil Engineers, Urban Planning, and Social Workers’ Perspectives."

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Tell us about yourself?

I am in the third year of my PhD program at UTA in the School of Social Work. My personal research focuses on looking at homelessness holistically, particularly as the phenomenon pertains to older adults. In order to do so, I strongly believe we must work together on interdisciplinary collaborations that allow us to: 1) truly understand the causal pathways into homelessness, 2) look at the nuances between subpopulations of individuals experiencing homelessness, and; 3) develop innovative interventions to both mitigate the harms associated with housing instability and eliminate barriers to exiting homelessness. I am very fortunate to have supportive colleagues and mentors who have helped me to refine my research trajectory as I have grown. Drs. Anne Nordberg, Courtney Cronley, Noelle Fields, and James Petrovich have been instrumental in challenging my viewpoints and encouraging me to stretch beyond traditional ways of thinking about homelessness and research in general.

In addition to my academic and professional career, I am a wife and a mother to seven-year-old twin daughters who keep me busy. I am a native Texan, an avid traveler, a coffee aficionado, a cat lover, and a life-long learner.

Who has influenced your career path in transportation?

Clients, to put it simply. Before pursuing my PhD, I worked as a Guardianship Specialist and as a social worker in an emergency department. During my time in both of these positions, I consistently noted transportation disadvantage as a barrier to accessing health care, social services, and educational and employment opportunities. When I started conducting research in the community, transportation was, and continues to be, an often-cited barrier to exiting homelessness that came up again and again, regardless of the true focus of the study. I am really excited to be a part of these transportation-related research projects because transportation is a critical, yet overlooked, factor in the lives of individuals experiencing homelessness.

You recently published "Transportation and homelessness: a systematic review" in the Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless. Tell us about that research?

This systematic review is actually one of the deliverables that came out of my first NITC student fellowship. I proposed this study because, as a population, individuals experiencing homelessness are overlooked in the extant transportation literature and, in the homelessness literature, transportation is overlooked as a critical factor. I think that this systematic review made this gap in the academic literature incredibly clear. One noteworthy finding, of which I was surprised, is that no two studies used the same instrument to measure transportation as a variable of interest. Another important consideration is the overwhelming use of retrospective surveys and traditional travel diaries rather than geographic information systems (GIS) or ecological momentary assessment (EMA) techniques. Despite the challenges, including:

1) the historical lack of studying transportation and homelessness;

2) the lack of a single or several valid and reliable measures to capture transportation and transportation disadvantage, and;

3) methodological limitations of the included studies, this review highlighted that transportation is a necessary component in the lives of individuals experiencing homelessness.

Participants reported relying on public transportation for health care access and social inclusion. By systematically analyzing these studies together, it is apparent that transportation is a basic need, similar to food and shelter. What I’d like to see, and what I hope to personally contribute to, is a shifting paradigm from transportation as a privilege to transportation equity.

After graduation, what future work do you envision doing?

I am currently working on my dissertation proposal, so I still have a ways to go before graduation. I do ultimately hope to secure a tenure-track faculty position at a large research-intensive university where I will definitely continue to work alongside vulnerable populations and communities, like individuals experiencing homelessness, collecting and disseminating data on important issues, including transportation and transportation disadvantage. I also plan to mentor, teach, and inspire students to look at social issues more holistically, modeling and encouraging them to work across disciplines to create change.

This is an installment in a series of monthly Student Spotlights we'll be shining on students and alumni that are involved with National Institute for Transportation & Communites (NITC) universities. NITC is a university transportation consortium funded by the U.S. DOT, and is a Portland State-led partnership with the University of Oregon, Oregon Institute of Technology, University of Utah, University of Arizona, and University of Texas at Arlington.

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