Marianna Defendini-Torres is a research assistant for the NICR project “Predicting Travel and Congestion in a Post-Pandemic America” from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. She is a senior studying economics with minors in comparative literature and international relations. As part of her participation in NICR, Marianna has worked on the concept and design of the Virtual Reality (VR) simulation experiment and has collaborated with the Texas A&M partners to develop a national survey regarding public transportation decision-making. Her knowledge of economic principles and behavior assisted in the project’s learning shifts in offer and demand caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on transit services.
Marianna carries an interesting background as a member of NICR. While her main interests in economics focus on gender studies and the environment, she brings a different perspective to ongoing transportation research. Her perspective on congestion includes environmental effects and vulnerable communities such as women, Latinos, African Americans, and others. Marianna, born and raised in Puerto Rico, grew up analyzing the narratives passed through generations about gender and equality. This issue, combined with the economic crisis of the Caribbean archipelago, inspired an innate passion that motivated her to study economics.
After Hurricane María devastated much of Puerto Rico, she understood the importance of transit. The natural disaster significantly affected the local transportation infrastructure and shut down the electrical grid and potable water systems. She experienced firsthand how transportation is critical for vulnerable communities stuck in helpless situations.
“My grandparents live in a rural small town called San Lorenzo on the east side of Puerto Rico. After María, all the roads were blocked by trees, landslides, and electrical and communications infrastructure. Along with my brothers, we helped open access in roads with machetes, handsaws, and axes. We realized our grandparents were without electrical service and potable water when we got to their home. My grandparents couldn’t leave their home because they have poor eyesight and were afraid of driving through blocked roads with landslides and encountering the overwhelming number of cars leaving town,” wrote Marianna.
Marianna feels empowered and supported working alongside Alberto Figueroa, Ph.D., Carlos del Valle, Ph.D., Daniel Rodríguez, Ph.D., and others on the NICR team. “Research with NICR taught me how good practices, promoting multidisciplinary perspectives and creating an inclusive environment can bring the best out of people and result in better research. I saw these principles reflected in myself: knowing your work is valuable and your efforts recognized, while still being conscious there is always space for learning, growth, and improvement, empowers me to do my best.” Marianna greatly enjoys reading. She loves her friends, speaking Italian with her nonna, discovering handcrafted beers, watching Formula 1, surfing, playing dominos with her brothers and eating guayabas (fruit also known as guavas) and raw cookie dough as snacks. Marianna will begin her Master of Science degree in gender, development, and globalization at the London School of Economics and Political Science this summer. We wish her the absolute best and thank her for her hard work with NICR!