Colleen Ma.jpeg

Colleen Ma

MUPP 2017

Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation

Project Manager

Can you describe your work and how your planning degree contributes to it?

I am a project manager for a nonprofit affordable housing developer called the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation and oversee the rehabilitation and construction of a couple of affordable housing projects in San Francisco. It's a combination of real estate development finance, local land use planning, community outreach, some politics, and of course, a whole lot of construction. To win the right to develop certain City-backed projects, you have to submit a response to an RFP; this is broadly similar to planning school. My peers (fellow planners) and I love putting together what is essentially an expert master's project in anywhere from 2-5 weeks. Of course, in this work I have the help of paid consultants and architects, but the parallel to the MUPP program is very clear.

What do you like most about your current job or related work in planning?

First and foremost, I love that I work for a transparent, mission driven organization that has the capacity to develop and own a wide variety of affordable housing projects while also providing comprehensive property management and social services to its tenants. While I also honestly love running numbers on a proforma and having everything balance, I am most appreciative of the people that I get to work and interact with in the field of affordable housing. From the community organizers and social workers to the tenants and construction workers, I truly feel that I get to work with the best people.


The fact that I get to also use learned skills and theories from planning school at work is also a huge plus. My former classmates and I used to complain about the MUPP degree making us a, "Jack of all trades, master of none," but it has since morphed into, "Jack of all trades, master of none...but just enough to be dangerous." This is the best way to describe my work today, as I can find myself looking at zoning and FARs, running different funding scenarios, reviewing soil compositions, creating basic maps, and reviewing construction change orders all in one day. It has made me a lot more proud of the breadth of knowledge that the MUPP program can provide.

What advice do you wish you had gotten as a MUPP or, conversely, what advice would you give to young planners today?

I wish that I had taken advantage of our ability to take classes in other departments, like in public administration, or in different schools, and not shied away from taking "unnecessary" classes. If there is something that you are interested in and it's not offered in the program or at UIC, please ask your adviser, mentor, or someone in CUPPA to create the program that works best for you. Everyone you meet in your MUPP journey is way more supportive and helpful than you might initially think - you just have to do a little bit of research and remember to ask for help.