USC Price School of Public Policy

Price valedictorian focuses on future in urban planning

May 31, 2017

By Matthew Kredell

USC Price valedictorian Griffin Kantz (Photo by Tom Queally)

When Griffin Kantz was called on stage to give his speech as valedictorian at the USC Price School of Public Policy commencement ceremony, it was a surprise to his family.

He kept the honor a secret from his parents, sister and two grandmothers in attendance.

“I thought if I told them too early in the semester, they’d get too into celebrating, as parents do, and by the time the ceremony came along, the feeling would have normalized — I wanted it to be special for them,” said Kantz, who earned a bachelor of science in policy, planning, and development with a concentration in sustainable planning.

Kantz had a long time to hatch the plan. He may be the only student from Price to be told twice that he would be valedictorian.

He first got the call early last year, due to a mix-up related to his advanced placement credits which granted him senior standing, though he was still a few courses shy of finishing the degree program. This year, there was no guarantee that Kantz would receive the honor, until he got the deja-vu call in February.

“I said that I appreciated being selected twice in a row, and was glad I could finally accept,” Kantz said. “It still felt like a surprise, even the second time.”

Academic passions

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The courses that impacted him the most were PPD 361: Sustainable Communities, Policy and Planning, taught by Ph.D. candidate Ryan Merrill, and PPD 425: Designing Livable Communities with Associate Professor Liz Falletta, which gave him the confidence that he could design sustainability in a smart way.

“I wasn’t trying to have a pristine record; I was just trying to become a good urban planner,” Kantz said. “I think it’s just that I got lucky with some of the classes I took, as I really enjoyed the professors and had an interest in the subject matter.”

Transportation planning is the area for which Kantz is most passionate. Among his notable research experiences at Price, Kantz – along with nine of his colleagues – compared urban development between Los Angeles and Mexico City. The group spent this past spring break in Mexico City, conducting interviews and gathering first-hand data. Their project ultimately won the $1,000 Interdisciplinary Award in the Social Sciences category at the 2017 Undergraduate Research Symposium.

“I feel like the work we accomplished on that project represented true urban planning research,” Kantz noted.

In addition, Kantz spent a year and a half as a student assistant for the METRANS Transportation Center. He redesigned the center’s graphics, created interactive exhibits for the website and led numerous student-enrichment events. He also became the first undergraduate to be hired to assist a METRANS-funded research project, which looked at the decline in inter- and intra-urban mobility and its impact on passenger travel.

That led to assisting on another METRANS research project that will continue over the summer to geo-visualize transit-oriented development sites along the New York City subway system — a project that will become a fixture on the METRANS website. He credits METRANS Associate Director of Administration Vicki Deguzman with shaping the way he handles projects.

“Griffin is a true renaissance scholar in every sense of the word,” Deguzman said. “He has been a gift to us here at METRANS, Price and USC, a gift we now proudly share with the world.”

Future ambitions

Many of the people Kantz worked with at METRANS came from engineering backgrounds, which directed his thoughts to becoming a planner with engineering capability. This summer, he’s taking part in a paid internship in Orange County with KOA Corporation, which provides transportation planning and engineering consulting services.

Kantz intends to pursue a graduate degree in planning, and hopes to begin that process next year, he said.

“Griffin Kantz gave the valedictory speech at the Price School graduation, but it is unlikely to be a farewell,” said Vice Dean for Academic Affairs Julie Zissimopoulos. “His exceptional record and engagement at USC suggest we will be hearing from him, and about him, for years to come. We congratulate him on his accomplishments and wish him well in his pursuit of graduate studies.”

In the long term, Kantz, who grew up in West L.A., hopes to be involved in transportation planning or research in Los Angeles.

“I’m really enthusiastic about all the transit changes coming to Los Angeles,” Kantz said. “I want to be here in the center of all of it when it’s growing, and to guide it along so it can be done well and equitably with good planning.”