Skilled Planners Needed for Sustainable Food Systems

Rial Carver

Regional and Community Planning, 2019

Kansas State University


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

I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Policy and Planning and a minor in Civic Agriculture and Food Systems. During college, I was super, maybe over-active in student organizations around campus: Ultimate Frisbee, the Environmental Coalition (in several leadership positions during my tenure), I even started a monthly on-campus farmers market. By the time I graduated, I was tired and couldn’t fathom another two years in graduate school. Instead of heading straight into a graduate program as many of my peers were doing, I looked for jobs related to environmental planning and food systems. Luckily, I found both of these in my first full-time job out of college as the sustainability coordinator for my alma mater’s dining services program.

My job included all things dining and sustainability. I worked on awareness campaigns to encourage recycling, trained employees on how to compost kitchen waste, connected chefs with local, seasonal produce, created a reusable to-go container program, and more. I was a staff of one in the dining services sustainability “office.” It was a fulfilling and rewarding experience that taught me lessons I didn’t even realize I needed to know. I started to realize that the part of the job I enjoyed most were the tasks that required strategic visioning and big picture thinking. I knew from my undergraduate degree that urban planning could offer training in that kind of thinking, so I started to consider urban planning graduate programs.

What planning subject or area most interests you?

After four years entrenched in food systems sustainability, I looked for a program that would allow me to explore my own food system planning interests. I was able to accomplish that goal by working on research projects with faculty in my department. While working as a research assistant, I had numerous opportunities to research food access through a planning lens. Working as a research assistant also provided opportunities to work closely with faculty and learn about their research interests and reasons for choosing academia as a career.

What aspects of your program do you like best?

Kansas State University’s planning department offers small class sizes that emphasize the cohort experience. A unique aspect of the planning program is its home in the College of Architecture, Planning and Design. Urban planning is not talked about in isolation—instead, design is also considered. By working with Adobe Suite and ArcGIS, I gained tangible skills to use in my career.

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

I have two pieces of advice for prospective planning students. The first is not to rush into a graduate program. Real-world experience can provide an unexpected education. My time working after college taught time management skills and professionalism. Second, pay attention to the community where your prospective planning program is located. Observing planning efforts as they happen can present many lessons to an emerging planner.

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