Planning for College program gives high school students a glimpse into careers in urban planning
By Matthew Kredell
USC Price Associated Students of Planning and Development (ASPD) continued its award-winning community outreach program Planning for College in November, introducing a new group of neighborhood high school students to urban planning as a career path and area of study.
The students attended as part of the federally funded Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) effort at Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Community Schools, Bernstein & Stem, and West Adams Prep. They learned about the college experience from four current USC Price graduate students, got an orientation on applying to college from USC Price Associate Director of Recruitment and Admissions Sarah Esquivel, took a tour of campus, and participated in activities designed to get them thinking about the planning of their communities.
USC Price graduate students established the program in 2013 and have carried it on annually. It has won one national and two Los Angeles chapter awards from the American Planning Association.
“As planners, we design and build cities, so I think it’s incredibly important to engage the communities that we serve,” said co-chair Kristian Castro (MPMPA ’19). “I think Planning for College is an important tradition that ASPD upholds. This is a critical space for these students to understand what it’s like navigating these intimidating institutions. It’s really to bridge Price as an anchor institution in South L.A., which I don’t think is happening effectively right now.”
Someone To Guide You
Eduardo Rodriguez, a second-year MPL student who serves as the other ASPD co-chair, participated in a panel discussion that also included USC Price students Marina Salazar (MPL ’19), Tanya Shah (GCRT, MPL ’19) and Anita Wang (MHA ’19). He spoke of how he worked for six years after completing his undergraduate studies before realizing that he wanted to pursue a career in urban planning.
Rodriguez is in the first generation of his family to attend college, like many of the participating high school students hope to be.
“When I went into college, I didn’t have anyone to guide me,” Rodriguez said. “My mom couldn’t tell me how to handle anything, my dad couldn’t, my brothers couldn’t — I was the first one. In the middle of my time at Fresno State, I got really lost. I was making bad decisions when it came to classes. Looking back, I think the best advice I could give you is to find a mentor who has that knowledge, who talks and thinks the way you eventually want to think, and ask for that guidance.”
The collaboration with GEAR UP originated with Nina Idemudia (MPL ’14), who was working for the organization while pursuing her graduate degree at USC Price.
“I want our students to have exposure to different fields,” said David Gantt, GEAR UP site coordinator at RFK. “When I was their age, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. If I had the exposure to field trips like this at different schools and departments, I think it would have helped. The USC Price student panels are always important, because I think our students need to hear their experiences.”
Each year, ASPD students seek to add a new innovation to the event. This time, rather than merely drawing their communities, the high school students acted out how it would feel to move through a healthy and safe city.
“I’m a creative, and so I wanted to take it to another level and have them act out what they would feel is an ideal city for our closing activity,” said Myca Tran (MPMPA ’19), who coordinated the event in her role as community engagement chair for the ASPD. “Community planners are always engaging, talking to people, building relationships. Those soft skills are really key to our profession, so I wanted to make sure it was something we cultivated this time.”
The Price students know that only a small number of the participating high school students will pursue careers in planning, but they hope that the day’s activities will plant the seed for the high schoolers to find some way to contribute to their communities.
“I think the career aspect is important, but what we really want them to take away is what it means to have agency in your community and feel like you have an opportunity to transform it,” Tran said.