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Why did you choose to pursue a graduate education in planning?
Where I grew up, in Central Illinois, played an important factor in my decision to pursue a graduate education in planning. Growing up, I lived within a half-day’s drive of many different types of communities, from rural towns to major cities, and I was fortunate to visit many of these places through school activities or family travel. Seeing these places instilled an interest in understanding how communities develop. When I was an undergraduate at Marquette, I got the chance to take some planning-related courses while also living in the heart of Milwaukee. What I was learning in class I could directly see playing out in front of me. From there I was able to put the pieces together and I realized that a degree in planning would be very rewarding.
What aspects of your program do you like best?
Similar to my time growing up, I get a lot of joy from the fact that I get to study in a region with diverse communities. In North Carolina there are, among other things, mountainous communities and coastal communities, growing communities, and shrinking communities. My professors are well connected across the state and do a good job of providing case studies for how these different places take unique steps to address similar issues. Additionally, the atmosphere in our department is very welcoming and supportive. The students, staff, and faculty are all very approachable. I could sense the positive atmosphere the first time I visited, and that gave me confidence that I would feel at home at UNC despite moving across the country.
What planning subject or area most interests you?
The courses I take through my program concentrate primarily on issues related to housing and natural hazard mitigation. I found these two (often interconnected) areas interesting to study given how pertinent they are in shaping and maintaining the character of communities. Housing policies and practices have, and will continue to, determined which populations have access to certain places. The extent to which those places are maintained will be determined by efforts to mitigate the effects of the increasing number of natural disasters. These will be important and exciting areas of work in the coming decades.
What advice would you offer someone considering a master’s degree in planning?
Imagine the type of work environment you want for your future, and from there, see if the courses offered in the program(s) you are considering will prepare you to work in that environment. If you know you want to enter academia, make sure there are an adequate number of courses with a heavy research component. If you will be returning to a team-oriented office environment, the number of courses with group work will be an important factor. You can also flip that logic and take courses that are different from your ideal work setting so that you can gain a different perspective. Overall, it comes down to whether your goal for pursuing a planning degree is to maximize your strengths or improve your weakness. Once you know that you will hopefully have better clarity as to what type of program is best for you.
What do you hope to do after completing your degree?
I imagine myself working for a municipal government or a metropolitan planning organization sometime after graduation. I started my planning degree directly after undergraduate, so I want to take the time to work in a setting where I can gain more hands-on experience and learn more about how planners operate day-to-day. In the long term, I would love to continue doing planning-related research and find creative ways to make the general public more aware about the field of planning. I have learned, however, that this field is vast and there are plenty of opportunities. So, I continue to keep an open mind about where I might work, and what type of work I might end up doing.