UI Cambus celebrates 50 years of student-run service

The transportation service is one of the only completely student-started and operated systems at the University of Iowa.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Cambus Personell supervisor Alyson Holevoet poses for a portrait on March 10, 2022.

Kate Perez, News Reporter

The University of Iowa Cambus system, a fully student-serviced operation, is celebrating 50 years.

The bus system was founded in 1971 and started service in 1972.

Students can rise through different levels of employment at Cambus. Cambus Operations Manager Mia Brunelli said all students begin as drivers for fixed routes and then can apply to be drivers for the Bionic Bus, which provides on-demand rides for people with disabilities. Drivers then can become dispatchers, trainers, and student mechanics.

Finally, students can become student supervisors who meet with Cambus managers weekly, Brunelli said.

Cambus Manager Brian McClatchey said the transportation system is special in the fact that it is one of few student-initiated services or programs that has remained intact for 50 years.

“I think it’s a real credit to everybody involved, and University of Iowa students, that you can maintain this initiative… for 50 years,” McClatchey said. “The bones that it was built upon still exist today.”

While students learn their new roles at support positions, Brunelli said she and McClatchey spend time mentoring the students until they become advisory members to them.

“Our support positions are really great opportunities for students to grow and develop as professionals and get to be in positions that have a lot of responsibility,” Brunelli said. “We really want to make sure we put them in a position where they can make sound decisions and use good judgment and we’re just here to support them as they do that.”

Iowa’s other public universities do not have student-operated bus systems. Iowa State University uses CyRide, but jobs are filled by city employees. The University of Northern Iowa has no bus system.

UI third-year student Darshaun Smith began working at Cambus during his first year at the university. He now serves as the Cambus dispatch and Bionic supervisor.

As the Bionic supervisor, Smith helps arrange services for people who need the Bionic Bus and approve, deny, or suggest other transportation opportunities or situations if necessary for those requesting Bionic Bus services.

Smith said he originally decided to work at Cambus because he likes to drive, listen to music, and be social with other people. He’s stayed at Cambus, however, because of the rewarding feeling he gets from providing the service to the community.

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The way the bus system helps other people is special to him, he said.

“It is the fact that this organization was started 50 years ago by students who realized a gap and which they knew they could gather the resources to fill,” Smith said. “People at Cambus just know it’s, yes, a community in and of itself, but it’s also a very important service to the community.”

Smith said he enjoys working for Cambus because he knows he is helping people get places they could not have gotten to without the service.

“It’s just nice to see that we all have a similar sense of how [Cambus] does serve a greater purpose,” he said. “It’s bigger than you.”

Connor Steele, a UI third-year student and cambus training and safety supervisor, said he joined the bus system after an acquaintance told him about the job and encouraged him to work there because it was easy and had great pay.

As the training and safety supervisor, Steele facilitates the training of drivers and the trainers themselves. He also interprets accidents and safety hazards both inside and outside of the Cambus on its route.

Steele said he enjoys working for Cambus because helping the community through the service is fulfilling.

The student environment is also an aspect he enjoys about his profession, Steele said. Everyone is approachable, no matter their age or year in school.

“Creating that really good, really cohesive environment really helps us not only do our job better but create relationships that are going to last hopefully past college,” he said.

Steele said being a student and working at Cambus is completely possible. The system works with students to ensure they get driving shifts that work with their schedules.

Alyson Holevoet, UI fourth-year student and Cambus personnel supervisor, said she decided to work at Cambus for extra money, but eventually applied for the dispatcher position and then the personnel position after being encouraged by friends.

Holevoet also said working at Cambus is manageable as a student because the other workers understand the lifestyle she is leading, as it is a completely student-run system.

“I couldn’t see it working out any other way, to be perfectly honest…people are awesome about helping out if I had an exam and I needed more time to study for it, I could offer up my shift,” she said. “In that regard, I don’t see any way that would work if we weren’t all students.”

Holevoet said the fact Cambus is managed by students leads to more ideas from workers to help UI students in the long run, as they understand what it’s like to use the Cambus system for classes and transportation.

“With issues and ideas to make campus more accessible to students or easier to understand and navigate how the bus system works, that works so well, because we were just in the dorms last year, or two or three years ago,” she said.

For Holevoet, Cambus is special because of all the different people she has met throughout her years working there.

“I love our community. It’s super diverse, people from a bunch of different backgrounds. We have international students working at CAMBUS and getting to talk to them about their life experiences is super awesome,” she said. “The general sense of community is so great.”