USC Price students win top honors from CA Planning Foundation
By Cristy Lytal
Students from the USC Price School of Public Policy’s Master of Planning (MPL) program won four 2013-14 California Planning Foundation (CPF) scholarships, including the top award statewide.
“The California Planning Foundation scholarships are the premier scholarship competition in planning in California, and this is always a very vigorous competition,” said Marlon Boarnet, professor and director of graduate programs in urban planning and development at USC Price. “So to have students rise to the top in this competition is really an indicator of the quality of the students that we attract here and the quality of the education that we provide for them.”
Established by the California chapter of the American Planning Association, the foundation provides scholarships and awards to in-state university students who demonstrate talent, motivation and academic excellence.
MPL student Nina Idemudia, first-place winner of the $5,000 Outstanding Student Scholarship, demonstrates all of these qualities.
“I was raised in Detroit proper and went through a lot of things in my life,” she said. “That definitely is a big part of why I think that planning is so important and feeling safe in your environment is so important — which I didn’t feel when I was growing up.”
Idemudia majored in African-American studies and women’s studies at the University of Michigan. When the university asked the African-American studies adviser to recommend students who would bring more diversity to the MPL program, Idemudia was introduced to a new potential profession.
“I didn’t even know what urban planning was until that point,” she explained. “My adviser said, ‘You love helping people. You love advocating for people. So this would be a good outlet for you, particularly because there are not lots of minorities within this field.’ ”
At USC, Idemudia serves as president of the Associated Students of Planning and Development and interns with the Community Coalition, an organization that works to influence public policy to transform the social and economic conditions that foster addiction, crime, violence and poverty in South LA.
She also collaborated with the Gear Up program at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools to arrange “Planning for College,” which brought 100 middle school students to USC for a program led by MPL students and faculty. Idemudia also works as the program assistant at Gear Up 4 LA, a federal grant awarded to the Los Angeles Unified School District to offer counseling, tutoring, mentoring and education about college and careers.
As the first-place winner of the CPF scholarship, Idemudia has been appointed as the student representative for the California chapter board.
“As a woman, as an African American, as a student of planning, I am so excited for what this means for not only me but also everybody else that comes after me. Every woman, every African American, every Latino who feels like they don’t have a place in our profession or at USC, I hope that they look at my story and say, ‘Actually, I do.’ And that’s what I’m hoping — to inspire other people.”
Eventually, she plans to return to Detroit to serve her hometown on the city council or as mayor.
“Aja Brown is the mayor of Compton, and she’s a USC graduate, MPL program ’05. I look at her story, and I admire her so, so much,” Idemudia said. “I absolutely would love to be like her for my own community.”
MPL student Stacy Farfán, winner of the $3,000 Diversity in Planning Award, also intends to give back to her hometown.
Born and raised in East LA, Farfán majored in architecture and minored in planning at the University of California, Berkeley, before moving to Washington, D.C., to teach fifth grade. As a teacher, she witnessed the effects of gentrification and other planning-related issues on the lives of her students.
“There were a lot of external factors that I couldn’t really help my students with,” she said. “I saw the impacts of planning through my students, and so I decided to pursue it.”
After earning her MPL degree from USC, Farfán would “like to think about how planning affects my community and how we can educate people and better the community,” she said.
MPL student Courtney Oustad earned the $1,000 Russell Fey Scholarship, named for a founding faculty member of the planning program at Fresno State University.
After studying political science and public law at the University of California, San Diego, Oustad worked for the revitalization department in her hometown of Fresno.
“At the time, they were working on a bunch of plans for their downtown area, and they had to do a lot of community outreach, door-to-door and public meetings almost once a month,” she said. “One of my big passions is to improve the interface between the professional planners and the community.”
After graduation, she intends to stay in Southern California “because there are so many things that need to be fixed,” she noted.
MPL student Gabriel Barreras won a $1,000 Los Angeles Section Award Scholarship.
He first encountered city planners in high school, where he was working with a construction company pouring cement to fortify the foundation of a hospital.
“I really appreciated their concern for the community — wanting to be equitable and not just building something that would favor the wealthy community or any particular slice of the community,” he said.
Barreras went on to earn his undergraduate degree in international relations from USC. After graduation, he worked for an afterschool youth program for children who were coming in and out of probation in Los Angeles, led a college outreach program for Oxfam America in Boston and sought business redevelopment opportunities for the U.S. Department of State in Vietnam.
Despite all of this planning-related work experience, Barreras didn’t realize that planning was a degree until he was 27 years old. He currently interns in the community outreach and design department of The Planning Center DC&E.
All scholarships included a one-year student membership in the American Planning Association and covered registration for the association’s annual conference and awards luncheon held in October in Visalia, Calif. The awards are also an invitation to become part of a distinguished network of mentors and leaders in the planning profession.
“They are strong students, and they’re strong leaders,” Boarnet said, “and the California Planning Foundation is looking for that combination. It’s very gratifying to see this kind of success.”