Advocating for Safe, Accessible Transit

Maimoona Rahim

Master of Urban Planning, 2023

University of Washington


Why did you choose to pursue a graduate education in planning?

I’ve always been an avid transit rider and love exploring new cities through their transit—especially those with extensive and reliable transit systems. As I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 25, I guess that was my only option. This led me to reading about walkable cities, which introduced me to urban planning. After I moved to Seattle, I got really into biking, eventually working at a bicycle nonprofit that advocates for safe and connected bike infrastructure. I also served on a volunteer bicycle advisory board for the City of Seattle and greatly enjoyed engaging with the local department of transportation as a citizen and activist. I realized I wanted to be on the other side of the table, working on projects and advocating for sustainable and safe transportation.

Before I applied for my current program, I enrolled in UW’s certificate program in Sustainable Transportation Planning, and just a few weeks into classes I realized this was exactly what I wanted to study.

What planning subject or area most interests you?

My program has several specializations, and mine is Transportation. I don’t want to plan for cars and I love transit and active transportation, so I’ve been taking all the classes I can about public transit and bicycle and pedestrian planning. I had the opportunity to intern at our local transit organization and am currently interning at a consulting firm that specializes in bicycle and pedestrian planning.

What opportunities does your program provide to engage with the community and fellow students?

The UW MUP program has so many opportunities for engaging with the community, such as the Professional Council, which pairs students with someone working in the region for a mentor/mentee relationship. There are studios, a core requirement, where students work on a project in teams of 12-15. We also have the opportunity to work with a real-life client with deliverables, a fun and rewarding experience.

In the first year of the program, almost all of your classes are with people in your cohort. The instructors here love group projects, so you have a lot of opportunities to work closely with your classmates. Some people are research assistants to professors and have the opportunity to work closely with professors and contribute to critical reports and research.

In lieu of a thesis, I’m doing a professional project, similar to a capstone project, through my internship at Toole Design Group. This opportunity to contribute to a real-world project with support from a committee has been crucial to my professional development.

What advice would you offer someone considering a master’s degree in planning?

Go for it! If you’re interested in urban planning, it’s a fun program where you learn a lot. My undergraduate degree isn’t at all related to planning, so don’t allow that to concern you. Over half of the students in my cohort did not study planning for their undergraduate degree.

Grad school is expensive, so do a lot of research on scholarships and fellowships and connect with the program advisor about funding opportunities. Also, research planning in general. Two years go by so quickly, so if you can start out with a clear direction of what area you want to specialize in, you’re bound to succeed.

Most importantly, graduate school is demanding. I foolishly thought grad school wouldn’t be that much more work than working a full-time job–I was wrong. An endless list of projects and assignments always occupied my mind. So be ready to wind down your life a little to focus on school, but make time for other things like going on walks, to the gym, or hanging out with friends and significant others.

What do you hope to do after completing your degree?

I really want to work as a transportation planner for either public transit or active modes. I don’t know if I want to go into the private or public sector, but I’m keeping my options open.

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