Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Stakeholder Health Podcast

What an honor to be a guest on the Stakeholder Health Podcast, hosted by Dr. Gary Gunderson. 

In 2005, I read Dr. Gunderson's book, Boundary Leaders: Leadership Skills for People of Faith in graduate school and I have been a fan ever since.  When he came to Winston-Salem in 2012 I stalked him like a fanboy.  So you can imagine how special I felt to be on his podcast.

A college friend of mine said this was her favorite part of the interview.
Gunderson: I want to interrupt, because I suspect, at this point in the interview, some of the stakeholder health folks listening to the interview are saying, “Wait a minute. You’re actually driving a bus, not writing a paper about people who are driving buses, and you’re actually on the bus, watching human beings for eight hours a day, not reading about people writing about people riding a bus?” So walk us through this process. How did you become a bus driver? So you decided, “Okay, it’s not enough to be a researcher. I actually do love the community, and, as we all know, sometimes love makes you crazy.
Summers: Yes.
Gunderson: Well, so your love is you’re driving a bus. How did that happen, and what’s it mean? How do you become one?
You can listen or read the interview at or from iTunes.

Monday, July 15, 2019

A Step Up

"Yesterday they said it was a second bus, so I tried it this morning.  Sure enough, I slept in a little and even had time to bring a lunch," said the man catching the 6am bus to work for the first time.  The early morning light of Spring illuminated our mutual joy.   He normally caught the bus at 5:30am but because of increased frequency on his route, he was afforded 30 minutes in his day.  He used that extra time for two health-promoting activities: rest and preparing lunch for work.

Increased frequency in bus service reduces travel times and frees up time in the schedule of riders to do other productive things.  The study I helped design for the Winston Salem State University Center for the Study of Economic Mobility found that "Employed bus riders spend 8.7 hours more a week in commuting time than equivalent workers taking vehicles. That averages to lost wages of $4,350 per year."  A bus rider complained to me the other day that all the time lost in transit was like having a part-time job that didn't pay.

The WSSU study was conducted before increased frequency was started on 6 routes because of an NCDOT grant to mitigate the impact of Business 40 closing. During the week, I drive 4 of the 6 routes that have 30-minute frequency and I hear riders express their appreciation for the improved service.  The story above came from a modification that was made to service paid for by the NCDOT.   That morning as I pondered how increased frequency had helped his health status I was also struck by how word of mouth was the best way to communicate with passengers.

As I thought about how he had said, "They told me yesterday, so I tried it today," it made me wonder who I had told about our improved service.  Because it was the first week of route modifications and having the fresh idea that word of mouth was the best way to disseminate information to bus riders, I made an announced later that day on a different route that also got improved frequency.  I let the riders on my bus know that there was now a second bus on their route and they would have 30-minute frequency. The overwhelmingly positive response from the riders blew me away.   One rider said, "Now that is a step up!"  

The banner below is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and it highlights how increased public transportation improves social determinants of health.   I witness those health improvements from behind the wheel and I pray that our community will continue the expanded service even after Business 40 opens.  

Saturday, July 6, 2019


When two people come at an idea with differing perspectives it can cause conflict.  Obviously, marriages have conflict, co-workers have conflict, siblings face conflict, even friends endure it sometimes.  The key to working through these, of course, is communication.  It is a complicated topic: we communicate with our words but also our tones of voice, facial expressions and eye rolls, types of laughter, shoulder hunches, arms crossing, busy hands, etc.

In the South, it is common to greet just about everyone you come in contact with, strangers, friends and enemies alike.  If not with words, most people will communicate with a tip of their head, or a small smile.  It still surprises my kids when someone doesn't say, "Good morning" right back to us, as it is the norm here in NC.

When Phillip sits in the bus driver's seat he can use his role to greet every person with a polite hello and give a kind goodbye when they exit. I think this is one of his favorite parts of the job. There have been a few days when people who are consistent riders do a double take to see if they are getting on the right bus since friendly Phillip is not their normal bus driver.  Cordial, face-to-face greetings seem to be sadly less common in these fast-paced, smart-phone driven days.

Conflict can sometimes arise if a rider feels lost and frustrated, needing quick answers, and as a new driver, Phillip has been humbled at not being able to answer the questions about scheduling very effectively or as efficiently as he would like.  This provides a chance to communicate quickly, "I am sorry. I don't know."

"I am sorry," are such simple, powerful words.  We don't have to have it all together all the time, but to be gracious in an instant where we would like to be given grace goes a long way.

I wish this was my default way.  In conflict, when I do take time to pause and gentle my voice in order to address an issue with a family member, or a student, it makes the conversation so much sweeter, and so much more effective.  It takes a lifetime to learn how to regularly, "speak the truth, in love" (Ephesians 4:15). Honesty, kindness, and graciousness in communication are the quickest way to change conflict to calm.