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Amanda Sapala
Master of Urban and Regional Planning
2019
Florida State University

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

A few years ago, I left a management career and moved to Charleston, South Carolina to learn how the design of a space could positively influence how people live, work, heal, shop, and play. While in Charleston, I managed a small business, and in an attempt to grow my business, I started studying urban design and economic development principles. As my passion grew, I prepared a report summarizing my research and ideas. The other merchants and business owners on my street got excited, my city councilmember was intrigued, and the president of the Preservation Society told me, “There’s a career for you in urban planning.”

What aspects of your program do you like best?

Florida State University (FSU) offered an unparalleled opportunity to combine my studies with an internship at the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency, a joint city-county agency that implements holistic transportation, stormwater, and quality of life projects. I knew joining Blueprint would give me the opportunity to apply what I would learn at FSU.

FSU’s program has exceeded my expectations, primarily because of its integration with the local planning community. The chief development resources officer for Leon County taught my “Comprehensive Planning & Land Use” class. He brought a real-world perspective to planning and brought in local planners to supplement course materials. Those planners have become mentors for me. My “Neighborhood Planning” class went into the heart of a struggling southside Tallahassee neighborhood, where we worked with the community to develop a Quality of Life plan. I have already directly applied the skills I honed in that class to my work at Blueprint. 

Additionally, my program offers a “Planning & Real Estate Development class” jointly with FSU’s business school. Future planners and real estate developers learned the principles of our disciplines together. Combined teams of planning and real estate students also participated in the Urban Land Institute’s UrbanPlan competition. My team drafted a redevelopment plan for open space in a fictional downtown, and we presented our winning plan at City Hall. This experience taught me how, with an unwavering commitment to achieving a vision and a little ingenuity, a profitable project can serve the community. 

What planning subject or area most interests you?

My interest in planning during my educational experiences has not changed. I am still passionate about how the design of a space can positively influence people. One key issue during my time at FSU is studying how to achieve all of this goals in a diverse community. 

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

For someone interested in planning, I would encourage her to watch, ask, and listen. Walk around your neighborhood and town, taking thoughtful notes on what makes it unique, what is working for the community, and what isn’t, and then ask yourself why. Talk to locals, read old newspaper articles, and get curious. Take opportunities in conversations with strangers, like those that pop up when you’re waiting in a long line at the grocery store or waiting at the doctor’s office, to mention your interest in urban planning. You might be surprised to hear, like I was, that other people will talk about how their city, and its design, has impacted them in personal and emotional ways. Take note, store those stories away in your memory and heart, and ponder them. Planning is an interactive, observational, and responsive profession. It cannot be understated, no matter what your role might be in this varied profession, how important it is to see and to listen.

What do you hope to do after completing your degree?

After planning school, I intend to continue doing the kind of planning and project development work I do with Blueprint—building spaces that support living, working, and playing in community and implementing projects that spur on additional investment and positive development.

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