Can you describe your work and how your planning degree contributes to it?
I work in various ways to support long-range planning and plan implementation around the Chicago region's public transit system. This takes various forms, like managing consultant-led planning projects through the RTA's Community Planning program, helping communities fund bike and pedestrian infrastructure around transit service by leading the Access to Transit Improvement Program, and various other efforts to promote transit-oriented development throughout our six-county service area.
My planning degree contributes to my professional career in several ways: it allowed me to learn the fundamentals of land-use planning, gain vital skills like GIS and statistical analysis, and build professional experience through my internship. I also made connections with some of the faculty members who shared their experiences with me that helped me choose my own direction in the planning field.
What do you like most about your current job or related work in planning?
I enjoy the project- and context-based nature of planning. As you move from project to project you take different approaches and learn new things. Things like TOD plans can differ greatly from community to community even though you may be utilizing the same skill set for each one. You also have the opportunity to work with professionals from varied disciplines and interact with community members in public meetings. Planning projects can lead to emotionally-charged reactions from the public, at times, but the dialogue that occurs in public meetings and the experience of engaging with community members is really a unique and valuable aspect of the job.
I also have a moral belief in the work that I do: although there are times when I question the tangible impact of planning, I truly believe that I'm working for the betterment of the City where I live and the surrounding region. It helps me keep a positive attitude and look forward to (almost) every day in this role. I also strongly support the mission of my employer and the values it embodies, which is also important to feeling value in my work.
What advice do you wish you had gotten as a MUPP or, conversely, what advice would you give to young planners today?
You'll get out of your education what you put in, so seize the opportunities you have to take as much as knowledge and experience from the program as possible - particularly in the areas that you want to eventually work in. Same goes with your internship, do your best to find a situation that will prepare you for the type of work you want to do after you graduate.
Take risks and put yourself in uncomfortable situations where you might be over your head, you'll learn more that way. And take as much as you can from the experienced planners you encounter whether its through the faculty or your internship, they're valuable resources so don't be afraid to ask questions.
Finally, be professional, considerate, and communicative. These are basic things that are beneficial in practically every career.