Yolanda Richards-Albert

MUP 2011

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

I currently serve as the Business Development Associate for World Business Chicago (WBC). A non-for-profit economic development organization chaired by the Mayor, WBC’s main function is to drive regional economic growth in Chicago and to advance the city’s position as a thriving location for business. As an Associate, my primary role is to provide support and research for businesses looking to relocate and expand in the city. One of my interests includes interfacing with community leaders and organizations to better improve our linkages with those who are outside the Central Business District. My previous work involved areas within municipal planning and public education with Chicago Public Schools (CPS). My exposure to CPS helped me better understand urban planning policies and its impact on schools and education. Additionally, I spent some time in the planning field working for the Villages of Northbrook, Schaumburg, and the City of Champaign, specifically providing support in the zoning process. My degree at the U of I provided advanced technical training in physical planning and GIS – key elements in my work on the municipal level. Most importantly, volunteering with Planners Network and Champaign Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice (CUCPJ) helped me address the importance of participatory planning and effective community involvement.

Why did you choose to study urban planning?

Two words: Hurricane Katrina. I was enraged at the political process and concerned about the ways that planning processes impacted marginalized communities. Thus, I decided to major in urban studies & planning at UC San Diego. My program provided a framework in understanding urban theory and social inequality. After studying abroad in Ghana for a year and then doing service with City Year Los Angeles, I decided to further my training and knowledge in urban and regional planning at the U of I.

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

Planning offers you a variety of options to consider in a career. Whether it is working for a private planning firm that develops plans for a neighborhood, coordinating a politician’s race for Mayor, facilitating peace circles to address violence in a community, or working with activists in Nairobi, Kenya to advocate for land rights, planning is dynamic. Urban planning deals with understanding the ways to improve the welfare of people and the spaces they reside in for themselves and for their generations to come. It can be a challenge navigating where you can fit in, but always remember there can be a space for you to thrive in and be successful—just put in the work. Do as much as you can to go beyond the classroom. Volunteer at a local organization focused on issues you care about in planning. Informational interviews are key in networking and making yourself available for future opportunities. Reach out to alumni and do not be timid in asking questions about their experience. Mentorship within and/or outside the department is important. Learning technical skills and aggregating data is great for presenting information, but also remember that it is the people in communities who are knowledgeable and equipped in telling their own stories. 

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