One of the challenges facing the Department of Urban Planning is explaining what planners do and the many available career paths in the field. This void in understanding is not just with the incoming students but also their parents. With 90 percent of those incoming freshmen predetermining architecture as their intended discipline, the challenge is daunting.

As a department, we have fully embraced the goal of lifelong learning as delineated in the university’s strategic plan “Destination 2040: Our Flight Path.” However, our take on this idea is that lifelong learning should start before you arrive on campus; therefore, we are developing a curriculum for dual-credit courses, youth workshops, and other engagement activities to showcase urban planning and development to the pre-college crowd

Our initial effort has been to partner with Urban Land Institute (ULI) Indiana to deploy their nationally renowned program UrbanPlan. It was a natural fit with many UP alumni in leadership roles with ULI. In addition, we had already integrated this program into PLAN 100, which gave us the experience we needed and a core of knowledgeable undergraduate students to help us launch a high school initiative.

Thanks to the encouragement of BUPD alumnus Lauren (Petersen) James, BUPD ‘11, we applied to the BSU Discovery Grant program, funded by the BSU Women’s Fund, for financing to launch our efforts. Receiving that grant has enabled us to conduct multiple Saturday workshops in Muncie, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis for students from all around the state over the past year.

Mary Banning, BUPD ‘16, MURP ‘18,  has led these workshops with our current students helping to facilitate. High school students engage in a real-world development exercise through role-playing, economics parameters, and private/public sector demands as they consider trade-offs to meet a community’s goals. Working in teams, the students discuss issues typical for any downtown redevelopment project, including social, cultural, economic, and justice concerns.

“Had I understood urban planning as an 18-year-old, my focus freshman year of college may have looked different,” Banning says. “Our hope as a department is to utilize Legos and the Urban Land Institute UrbanPlan program as a tool to expose high school students to urban planning.”

Junior Elise Jones has enjoyed assisting Banning in the PLAN 100 classes in the high school workshops.

“Getting to work with high schoolers and introduce them to urban planning has been so rewarding as I wish I had learned about planning earlier,” she says. “The major and career field is so unique and wide ranging, and it gives individuals the opportunity to create positive change, which I feel is an interest of many students today.”

Toward the end of each of those day-long high school workshops, parents arrive to watch final presentations.  We discuss the connections between the workshop activities and the urban planning profession. I’m delighted that we’ve had such a grand launch toward achieving our goal of growing a new class of freshmen coming to BSU already knowing they want to study Urban Planning!

By Scott Truex
Department Chair of Urban Planning