Nancy Smebak Abts
What is your current job and how did your planning degree prepare you for it?
I'm currently the City Planner for Osseo, MN. Osseo is a small, historic farming community-turned-Minneapolis suburb with 2,500 residents (and just 5 full-time Administrative staff) nestled between much larger expanding suburbs in the Twin Cities metro area. As a result, I get to deal with almost every aspect of public planning, from land use applications and zoning code enforcement, to comprehensive planning, to economic development, parks planning, public health, light rail transit area planning, and I also dabble in other areas of City Administration. The ability to take classes across a range of subject areas and disciplines as part of my planning degree at UIUC helped me prepare for my broad range of responsibilities.
My undergraduate degree is in Architecture and represents an early interest in human ecology. Before attending UIUC, I worked for a small conservation district and a nonprofit education organization. As part of my MUP degree, I interned with the US EPA Region 5 office in Chicago and worked with Peoria County and University of Illinois Extension. All these experiences helped me narrow in on municipal planning as my preferred career.
Why did you choose to study urban planning?
I took my first 'urban studies' class in an attempt to somehow understand cities. After spending my first 18 years on a farm in rural northern Minnesota, I was genuinely perplexed by the expanses of concrete and steel that surrounded me at college. After that first class, I was hooked. I've never been happy knowing just one side of the story, and planning allows us to think about and address the multiple complexities in our cities and our society. Earning my MUP degree allowed me to "tie together" my varied professional experiences and interests and smoothly transition to work in a local government agency.
What advice would you share with someone who is considering a career in urban planning?
The American Planning Association book Becoming an Urban Planner is an excellent and honest guide to Planning. I read it cover to cover before applying to planning school, and it let me enter the profession with my eyes wide open. It's definitely worth tracking down a copy if you're thinking of becoming a planner.
Beyond that, talk to planners. Most planners I've met take their professional obligations to young planners seriously and are more than happy to meet with you. I'd recommend this even if you're interested in a less "traditional" planning career as a consultant, activist, analyst, or other allied position--municipal planners can likely connect you with people doing that kind of work who might not be as easy to track down when you aren't immersed in the profession.