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Civil engineering student named STRIPES director

STRIPES Executive Matt Smith, left, assigns duties at the beginning of a night of operations. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, 25 STRIPES volunteers give 250-300 free rides home. (Photo by Matt Wheeler)

Ask Matt Wheeler why he got involved in STRIPES, and he’ll say he was hungry.  Not for involvement or community service. No, he was literally hungry. And STRIPES had free pizza.

“That was enough to go the first time,” he laughed.

On January 1, the junior civil and environmental engineering student took the reigns as director of the student-run safe ride service for 2010.

STRIPES operates Thursday through Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. When a student calls for a ride, a car is dispatched to the patron’s location. The dispatcher is notified by phone when the student is picked up and again when he or she is dropped off at home.

Wheeler first volunteered for STRIPES as a freshman. The pizza must have been good, because he continued for a semester. Then Wheeler accepted a position as risk management chair, which he held for four semesters. But when the opportunity arose for him to take the director position, Wheeler said he didn’t think it was for him.

“I didn’t feel like I had enough experience and I had prior commitments in the College of Engineering,” he said.

A year later he reconsidered.

“The leadership, management and HR experience you gain from this [position] is unlike anything else,” he said. “It’s a high profile, sink or swim environment.”

The STRIPES executive board voted Wheeler to replace 2009 director Tanner Tucker. He will remain in the position until December 31.

Wheeler credited former directors Domingo Pacheco and Tucker for building a safe, reliable volunteer base.

As for his goals, Wheeler said he wants to increase the STRIPES fleet from eight to 10 cars, because the service’s number one complaint is that response takes too long. He also wants to continue improving risk management. He said STRIPES got a grant to install a GPS tracking system in every car, making it possible to track a car in “real time” rather than awaiting a phone call to confirm its arrival.

“They say you [an organization] only need one fantastic year, and it’s almost self-sustaining after that,” Wheeler said. “This year could be that year.”