Harvard Graduate Student Employee of the Year

David Bemporad

Job Title: Intern

Organization: The Great Springs Project


David is collaborative and hard-working and has a key ingredient for problem-solving: determination. Our mission is one large problem to solve: creating a national park-sized preserve in the heart of Texas, a state where less than 4% of land is publicly accessible and our conservation corridor is in one of the quickest developing regions in the US. David's internship is a dual role where he is in-house with one of our partners helping support their local efforts as part of our regional conserDavid Bemporadvation and trail network vision. There wasn't a manual or how-to guide and yet he quickly set about solving problems. David has a natural ability to solve a myriad of issues before they become problems and is calm, strategic, and professional when problems arise. David's authentic approach engenders trust and confidence which helps maintain a high-performing workplace for an organization dedicated to solving a very important problem on how to protect a critical water source, ensure public access to four of Texas' iconic great springs and conserve beautiful open space for generations to come.

David’s position reports to the Chief Strategy & Operations Officer and provides trail programming support (master trail planning and mapping), Bexar County route planning and organizational support to ActivateSA, a GSP partner, and support GSP's programmatic and development work as directed (equity framework, trail jam, county/municipal outreach, policy support). David has helped prepare ActivateSA to become a 501c3 nonprofit, and his role has been critical to the growth of ActivateSA and to the momentum of Great Springs Project.

David can present compelling arguments that have moved the needle in our organization -- no small feat as we are a high-performing small team and David is our youngest member and an intern. David is an active voice in strategic discussions, helps translate technical data into useful talking points, and has a mastery of communicating via virtual formats. Great Springs Project has launched its master trail planning efforts and David's digital technology skills are essential elements of the process relative to data collection, GIS mapping, visualizations, photography, and professional-quality presentation materials.

David participates in key business meetings because he listens, is an excellent communicator, and is thoughtful and prepared. It is not easy to be a part of a start-up, much less a nonprofit start-up that had to quickly transition to virtual operations during a global pandemic AND continue to attend graduate school. David was never late, was always prepared and engaged and met every deadline. We have a huge mission and a small but mighty team that is high-performing, demanding, and focused, and David has earned his place as a very valued member of Great Springs Project.

David has helped to develop our organization's equity commitment and framework. He provided invaluable and insightful feedback on our equity commitment, reflecting fluency on the importance of language to communicate inclusivity. David is a member of our diverse equity task force and his contributions have been substantial in terms of strategic discussions, operationalizing our learning and materials development.

David exemplifies leadership. He is not afraid to ask questions, to contact colleagues for assistance/guidance or to offer to share his expertise. David has developed some excellent materials and yet is open to constructive criticism, learning and growth.

A key role of David's work is collaboration. David does the research, comes to the discussion prepared and is always available to support whatever needs to be done. It is perhaps his excellent teamwork skills that has lead to his overall success with Great Springs Project.

A Q&A with David

Q1. What made you apply to your current job while being a student?  

David: At the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, as I moved back to my hometown of San Antonio, Texas, and saw my city suffering. I had lived there almost my entire life, yet my contributions to the public good in San Antonio were minimal. I decided that I needed to serve my neighbors and harness the skills I had learned in my first year as a transportation and public realm-focused Master in Urban Planning student for a truly just cause. At the same time, San Antonio’s trail system saw record usage, as more people need free opportunities for active recreation or simply a way to get out of the house. These trails are a gem in South Texas, expanding from the famous San Antonio Riverwalk, connecting to the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, and linking millions of residents on 80 miles of paved, ADA-accessible trails. I decided that improving these trails and making sure every San Antonio had access to high-quality recreational space would be my way of helping my city heal and sustain itself through the pandemic. 

Q2: Where did you find your job? 

David: Through my research on active transportation and recreation initiatives in San Antonio, Texas, I found the Great Springs Project (GSP). GSP envisions a national park scale conservation corridor connecting San Antonio to Austin, Texas through the four great springs along the I-35 corridor – coordinating local trail building and conservation efforts to build a 100-mile trail and conserve 50,000 acres of land. David

Q3: How have you been able to balance your schoolwork and work responsibilities? What are your personal keys to success, and what challenges or hurdles have you encountered?  

David: Balancing school work and my job’s responsibilities is not an easy task. Conflicting deadlines, mandatory Zoom meetings, and the need to produce high-quality graphics for both work and school have led to long hours and busy weekends. I usually balance my requirements through open and honest communication with my employer and professors – coordinating deadlines, meetings, and products to make my school work useful for GSP and vice versa. 

Q4: What does your typical day look like at work? What do you love the most about your position? 

David:There is no such thing as a typical day in my job. Depending on the day, I will lead public and staff presentations or coordinate strategy with elected officials; design presentations, reports, and issuing official recommendations; or complete tax documents for 501c3 filing and formation or research new state legislation, local zoning, and design policy, or federal infrastructure programs. Of all these responsibilities, my favorite by far is design. Whether a presentation, report, whitepaper, or graphic, communicating information visually is a passion of mine, and I have been able to hone this skill through my position at GSP deeply. 

Q5: How does it relate to what you are learning at Harvard? 

David: Trails can be a recreation or transportation amenity. They can give people an opportunity to move more healthily, reducing their carbon footprint, or simply getting from home to work. My Urban Planning studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Design center around building new infrastructure to heal our world, support redlined and underserved communities, and promote transportation choice in American cities. GSP’s vision is aligned with these concepts and goals and allows me to apply my learned theory in a close-to-home, real-world setting. 

Q6: What is the most rewarding part of your job? What lessons have you learned that you’ll take with you after graduation?  

David: The power of interagency, inter-team, and interpersonal coordination is a remarkable skill I have learned in this position. Working with and managing the efforts of Architects, Landscape Architects, Conservationists, Civil Engineers, Civic Leaders, and Transportation Planners has shown me how easy it is for miscommunication to derail a project and how impactful an effective coordinator can be.