By CHARLES ANZALONE
Published July 10, 2023
When Mirna Cadet started the project-based Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) capstone course, she couldn’t help thinking she should drop it.
She was graduating that spring, and if the theme of the course wasn’t intimidating enough — find a way to improve the world around you, and then do it — she faced the required 100 hours outside of class.
“What am I doing?” Cadet asked herself when the course add-drop deadline came and went. “It was scary.”
That was then. Since, Cadet and her Team Traffic Cones classmates identified a need for reading spaces in Buffalo City Mission and set up three, building bookshelves with more than 1,000 donated books for the men and women residents.
At the same time, Cadet reconnected with the love of volunteering she acquired as a teenager cleaning Brooklyn churches and working in an animal shelter because she really wanted a pet.
“I was reminded of the idea of community and what’s it like to give,” says Cadet, who came to Brooklyn from Haiti at age 11, learning English on the fast track while enduring ridicule from her peers.
“And it’s not just what you’re giving. It’s more the interaction. You’re helping this individual facing a hard time to know we are thinking of you and that other people love them and care for them.”
Not bad for a three-credit undergraduate course.
“I was really impressed with her team’s PPE capstone project,” says David Emmanuel Gray, professor of philosophy who designed Integrating PPE (PHI 485) with the help of the Career Design Center.
“Her team had some setbacks early on, but Mirna remained flexible and resilient. With all her hard work, Team Traffic Cones was able to pivot into an extremely impactful outcome with the Buffalo City Mission. It was amazing to watch.
“This is exactly the type of work that embodies the spirit of my course. They were asked to make the world better — and they most definitely did.”
Before attention returns to the book areas, Cadet insists on giving others their due.
“Professor Gray was always a motivator,” says Cadet. “He always told us, ‘Yes, I’m in your corner.’ Every time we had a new flier and location, he was the very first person to post that.”
Same for the members of her Team Traffic Cones. Besides Cadet, they are Allison Merchan, presenter, rising senior in business administration; Lawrence Lin, recorder, who graduated this spring with a degree in political science; and Glenn Wright, monitor, a spring graduate with a marketing degree.
Ditto for the UB community, for their “unwavering support,” she says.
“We had our doubts but thanks to perseverance we succeeded,” says Merchan. “There is a lot more to be done. I hope this sets in place many more collaborations between UB and the Buffalo community.”
Now a few words on Team Traffic Cones. Each team needed a name, Cadet explains.
“I like bright colors,” she notes. “The day the team was formed, Feb. 17, I was wearing my orange beanie and my orange shoes.” Her classmates told her she was looking “really bright.”
“Yeah, I’m a traffic cone,” answered Cadet.
“Are you serious?” they asked.
“Yeah, I’m a traffic cone,” she repeated.
“The weather wasn’t too nice that day, and I told them I was going to go direct traffic at Flint Loop because it’s always a little chaotic there. One said we should be Team Traffic Cones. So all of us voted we should be Team Traffic Cones.”
Several table-display book drives later, the Cones had gathered almost 1,800 books. Team members sorted and cleaned them, and choose the best for their bookshelf project. Cadet still has some in her car trunk.
The Cones’ work has been a big hit at Buffalo City Mission. April Parkhill, adult education coordinator for Buffalo City Mission at Cornerstone Manor, the women and children’s shelter, says the bookshelves and reading areas have upgraded the dining room space.
“Seeing how good the space looks now with it, I’m realizing this is what we were missing here,” says Parkhill. “It’s definitely been heavily used, appreciated and enjoyed by the residents. It’s a great additional resource for them.”
Cadet and Merchan assembled the bookshelves for the women and children’s area, since males are not allowed in the space. “So it took us longer,” Cadet says. “But as we were putting these shelves together, the women in the facility were saying ‘OK, we’ll read the instruction manual for you’ and they wanted to help us.
“Our goal was to give to the community something that both young and old can enjoy together,” she says. “Seeing a mother and child sitting on the floor interacting with each other with these books gave us the impression our project was worthwhile and made us feel great. Now they don’t have to leave where they feel safe.”
Gray says what was “really impressive” about the project is that its social impact continues, even though the course ended last May.
“Most projects in my course do not do that,” he says. “Seeing a self-sustaining project like this is truly awesome.”
For now, the only loose end is finding that orange beanie that started it all.
“Somehow I took it from my mom,” says Cadet, who recently was accepted into the master’s program in real estate development at UB’s School of Architecture and Planning. Her long-term goal: become a corporate lawyer and real estate developer who builds sustainable housing for lower-income individuals.
“She bought the hat. But I really liked it, so I just took it. It was like, ‘Yeah, this is mine now.’
“By the time we started doing the tabling events for the project it was already warm out,” she says. “I didn’t need to wear a beanie anymore. But I still have it.”