What is your current job and how did your planning degree prepare you for it?
I have had internships with SCAG (Southern California MPO) and the City of Los Angles after graduating in 2012. Since October 2013, I have been working as a Regional Transportation Planner with Central Louisiana MPO. My daily responsibilities include updating and maintaining MPO programs such as TIP, UPWP, and the Long Range Transportation Plan. I work with different groups of people including state DOT, MPOs in other regions, and transit providers. We also have ongoing Human Services Coordination and Travel Demand Management programs on which I work. My studies at University of Illinois prepared me to understand and interpret planning related policies and regulations at different levels. I am familiar with various data sets and analytical tools that are very important in any planning project. I am efficient in working with different groups of people and, most importantly, I have learned to prioritize tasks around deadlines. There are always moments that I realize I am applying something I got from school to my job and that gives me a feeling of accomplishment.
Why did you choose to study urban planning?
I have a B.S. in Geography. I was trained to think about communities in a spatial and geographical way and I have always been interested in how land use and transportation are related in different ways. When I was preparing for graduate school, I wanted to learn something beyond spatial analysis and mapping. Urban Planning became my top choice. The more I searched through the curriculum and concentrations, the more I realized this major is much more comprehensive and inclusive than I thought. American urban planning education focuses on negotiating, decision-making, sustainability, and dealing with diverse interests of the communities, which was exactly what I wanted to know and learn. During the program, I had sources and advice to cultivate my own specialization. In the meanwhile, I was guided to fulfill required courses and encouraged to interact with alumni and city planners.
What advice would you share with someone who is considering a career in urban planning?
Urban Planning is an ideal major for people who love the city. I would suggest anyone who is interested in applying for Urban Planning try to explore your deep curiosity and specialty as much as you can. There are many kinds of blogs, magazines, books, and volunteer opportunities about urban planning. Be open-minded and try different ways to learn more. If someone is already in school, I would suggest they learn and practice as many computer skills and presentation skills as possible, as those will become your assets to defeat your competitors in job hunting. Networking and internships are almost as important as the degree! Go out and build your network when you are still in school.