What is your current job and how did your planning degree prepare you for it?
I am a Facilities Planner for Frederick County Public Schools in Maryland. The county is an exurb of Washington, DC with much of our work force commuting to the metro area but it has a very small-town, rural feel. We have 66 schools and about 15 future school sites and my job is to help plan for the capacity and functionality of our school campuses. I love my job because I get to do something different every day. I negotiate with developers about our future school sites, meet with the county and city planners about Safe Routes to School issues, update our ten-year facilities plan, work on feasibility studies for new or renovated buildings, host community meetings for redistricting studies, and coordinate with school staff on site issues. I get to interact with people from diverse neighborhoods and communities because the county is large and has a lot of different communities. Previously I worked with the Smart Energy Design Assistance Center helping communities throughout Illinois implement energy efficiency recommendations. I completed internships at UIUC with the League of Illinois Bicyclists and the UIUC Facilities Services Department on bicycle and pedestrian planning issues.
Why did you choose to study urban planning?
My undergraduate degree was in Civil Engineering, but I spent a lot of my free time involved in social justice issues. When I started looking for jobs I realized that engineers don't really get much of an opportunity to think about the social impacts of their work. I chose to study planning because it involves some technical analysis but is largely focused on engaging with communities. I liked UIUC's emphasis on sustainability.
What advice would you share with someone who is considering a career in urban planning?
Planning is a very broad degree and prepares you to do many different types of work. Don't be discouraged if you find yourself doing something you didn't expect to do because there will always be opportunities to move in a different direction. I've had a lot of very different jobs but I can almost always find ways to apply my skills to a new problem. Be involved in professional organizations so that you stay connected to new ideas and research and make connections with other people who are doing jobs that you want to do.