Aug. 27, 2014
Lukas Hagen is a recent graduate of the Urban & Regional Planning Program in the School of Planning, Design and Construction at MSU. He wrote the following near the time of his May graduation to leave as advice for other planning students, but much of it can be applied to any major.
Graduation and everything surrounding it has been a momentous time for me, one that prompts some reflection and introspection on the experiences of my past four years here at MSU, among other things. As a result, I realized there were four lessons I learned made a difference for me, while working towards my degree.
1. Talk to your professors and advisors.
Before you ever sign up for classes, talk with your advisor. There are classes out there that you can take that you may not have found on your own. Furthermore, as graduation nears, your advisor can be indispensable in helping you to narrow your job search, or even just your interests. Jonglim Han Yoo, or Ms. J for short, the URP academic advisor, was tremendously helpful to me personally, as I was looking for opportunities in the fall of my final year. She was able to put me in touch with professionals already working in the field.
Talking with professors can also bring you job opportunities that can give you a leg up when it comes to getting internships and jobs later on. In my second semester of junior year, I accepted two jobs with two professors for the coming year, and they weren’t the only offers. Many of these positions allow you to get real-world experience in an office setting that can give you a taste of what it will be like beyond graduation.
2. Join the MSU Urban & Regional Planning Student Association.
The Urban & Regional Student Association (URPSA) provided me with the opportunity to make friends with those in my major. Not only were we able to set up study groups and help each other out in classes, but I made some close friendships that will continue beyond my graduation.
The URPSA also serves as a connection with alumni. There were several meetings where recent alumni of the URP program came to talk about their experiences on their first jobs and with the post-grad job search.
It is one of the first points of contact for outside organizations looking to get in touch with the students. We were often the first ones to hear about scholarship and internship opportunities, job openings and the like.
Perhaps my favorite thing about being a part of URPSA was being able to give the professors and administrators direct feedback about the URP program. There were several times where they sat down with us to discuss the direction of the program, possible new classes, potential changes within the curriculum and so forth.
There was also free pizza at all the general meetings.
3. Go on study abroad.
Perhaps some of my most formative experiences came from studying abroad. Beyond being a great way to get to see another corner of the planet, it gave me insight into the university life in other countries, beyond the differences in planning-related matters, although those are not to be discounted.
The URP offers several study abroad programs that are tailored to planning students. Two of them alternate every other summer. In odd numbered years, Zenia Kotval heads a trip to Europe that takes students through Spain, Germany and Romania, and in even numbered years Mark Wilson takes students to Japan and Korea. There is another program aimed at planners, but open to all students, which goes to Cuba every year.
I attended the Cuban study abroad in 2012, and the European program in 2013, and beyond learning things that classrooms just can’t offer, I made more friends than I could ever imagine.
In Cuba, for example, we studied how planning works in a political system where the distribution of power is much more centralized than it is in the United States. Because economic resources there are sparse and historical buildings in need of repair are plenty, very innovative policies have come about.
Europe, we discovered, has a very different urban landscape because of so many more centuries of history, which can result in clashes between economic development and historic preservation.
4. Take the hard classes.
While everyone is always looking for that magically elusive easy blow-off class, avoiding those is a good idea. I know no one likes to hear it, and I don’t like admitting it, but those classes that keep you up at the library until 2 a.m. may well be the ones you find most helpful down the road. These are the classes that will give you the materials you submit to future employers when they ask for professional writing samples. And if you do well, the professor may offer you a position, or at least a glowing letter of recommendation.
I, and many of my fellow students, agree that the hardest class we took was Planning Practicum, our Capstone class. While it challenged us in every aspect academically, it gave us a chance to work on real-world projects that we would hand over to a real community. Recently, the School of Planning, Design and Construction filmed a mini-documentary about the class that I took part in along with my practicum team. It tells the story of what goes on in the class and the potential impacts of the projects we work on. (Watch the 3-minute video above)
Photo by B Garvin Photograpy