When Nick Mellis ’21/M.A. ’22, arrived at Clark University’s Worcester campus, he was already familiar with the city’s trails and public transit having grown up nearby in Lancaster. That wasn’t the case for many of his peers.
“I realized a lot of Clark students didn’t know where to go or what they could do in the area,” says Mellis.
That led Mellis, who is in the fifth-year program pursuing a master’s in Community Development and Planning, to develop what became “The Trails and Transit Map” for Clark students.
Mellis came up with the idea for the map while majoring in geography as an undergraduate. In a graphic design course, he undertook a class project that evolved into a directed study under Sherry Freyermuth, assistant professor in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts.
“To figure out what types of maps look good and look bad, I called more than one hundred offices of tourism and transit agencies to request their maps in the mail,” says Mellis, who now has a box replete with samples. “Some of the best examples were maps from places that surprised me like Iowa City, Iowa, or Eugene, Oregon.”
Some products inspired Mellis. Others showed him design elements he wanted to avoid.
“He called any place that would pick up the phone and talk with him about their maps and transit system,” says Freyermuth. “I helped with the design process, and I was proud of all the work he did.”
Mellis engaged with the community by hosting several discussions and brainstorming sessions to gather feedback.
“I stood next to a poster of the map in Red Square and asked students, faculty, and staff walking by how it could be improved and if it included information they thought was useful and relevant,” he says. “I wanted to ensure that the map was understandable and easy to use for everyone.”
The map Mellis created combined his GIS and graphic design skills. On one side is a transit map to give students a better understanding of Worcester’s transportation system and on the other side is a trails map to show students how to access different outdoor areas.
Mellis says his favorite place to pause and take in his surroundings is Coes Pond.
“I go on really long walks. It’s my way to de-stress,” he says. “Part of the reason that I wanted to go to all the trails on the map was because I like exploring new places around the city.”
Mellis has been intrigued by maps since he was eight years old and memorized the New York City subway map. His interest expanded over time, and Mellis says he now sees this project as a way to address the impacts of climate change by encouraging people to seek outdoor locations via public transportation.
“I wanted people to use more parks and other green spaces,” he says. “Clark markets itself as being close to green space, and it is, but not all students know how to get there. A way to get more people around the city and on the bus is to make a map.”
Mellis adds that Worcester has hybrid electric buses, which are fare-free through at least the end of the year.
A grant from the Clark Undergraduate Student Council allowed Mellis to print and distribute the maps.
“This project shows potential students that if you have a passion, Clark supports it,” says Freyermuth.
Mellis worked with a map printer in Denver to publish 2,500 copies of the map, which are available across campus, including at the Goddard Library, the Information Desk in the University Center, and the Office of Community Engagement and Volunteering.
“I’ve seen people using it around campus and that’s the greatest feeling ever,” he says. “That makes me so happy.”
Mellis says that when he was investigating where he wanted to attend college, Clark’s motto “Challenge Convention. Change Our World.” appealed to him.
“I wanted to make change and I felt like I could do that at Clark,” he says. “And I did learn those skills of how to be a change-maker.”
After graduation, Mellis wants to continue doing cartography work or pursue a career as an urban planner.