Melissa (Pognon) Shillingford

Joint Masters in Human and Community Development and Master of Urban Planning, 2011

What is your current job and how did your planning degree prepare you for it?

During my graduate studies, I developed a passion for developing “community-university” partnerships that aimed to address social justice issues. This passion was nurtured through my involvement in Planners Network and taking courses through my concentration in Community Development for Social Justice.

Upon graduation, I continued to build mutually beneficial partnerships between members of the community and university. I landed a position as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Northwestern University’s Center for Civic Engagement. As an AmeriCorps, I helped run a civic engagement fellowship program that trained undergraduate leaders to promote quality service-learning and civic engagement throughout Evanston and Chicago. In this position, I also helped design and launch The Arts and Music Programs for Education in Detention Centers (AMPED) program, which connected Northwestern music mentor volunteers with young men incarcerated at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.

I continue to build these partnerships in my current role as the Director of Fellowship Initiatives at the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. In this capacity, I help build the capacity of community-based organizations that serve justice-involved youth by placing talented upperclassmen and graduate students in direct service or clinical roles at these organizations. We also serve host two annual symposia where distinguished speakers, advocates, practitioners, and scholars discuss issues that are at the forefront of youth justice. Additionally, I provide trainings to staff at participating agencies and fellows on relevant skills to help advance their serving young people.

Why did you choose to study urban planning?

I chose to study urban planning because it provided the framework, and equipped me with the tools needed to work with underserved communities and institutions of higher education to address social problems at the neighborhood level.

What advice would you share with someone who is considering a career in urban planning?

The field of urban planning has expanded and evolved over the years. As you consider a career in this field, consider how you could be a change agent. Consider how you can apply your skills and knowledge for the greater good.

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