Planning students earn national APA award for community outreach

June 21, 2017

Local high schoolers take part in workshops at USC as part of ASPD’s “Planning for College” program. (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

By Matthew Kredell

The USC Price School of Public Policy’s Associated Students of Planning and Development (ASPD) received a national distinction, winning the 2017 Outstanding Planning Student Organization award in the category of community outreach for its Planning for College program. The award is presented by the American Planning Association’s Student Representatives Council.

Through a series of interactive workshops facilitated by teams of Price Master of Planning students, Planning for College provides high school students the opportunity to visit USC and learn about urban planning careers, as well as the college admissions system. Most of the high school students come in never having heard of urban planning as an area of study or as a potential career.

Innovative and impactful

Nina Idemudia, right, engages with students as part of the Planning for College program at USC Price. (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Nina Idemudia established the program four years ago, during her first year as an MPL student, as a collaboration with GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), where she worked at the time. That initial offering involved middle school students from nearby Robert F. Kennedy community schools. In the following years, the program focused on high schoolers from RFK.

“Our graduate students have done something truly remarkable,” said USC Price Professor Marlon Boarnet, who chairs of the Department of Urban Planning and Spatial Analysis. “They have engaged in systematic outreach to RFK High School in ways that extend well beyond the term of any one MPL student, and they have built a tradition of engagement. The work they do, encouraging young students to pursue college and introducing them to campus, represents the best of the Trojan spirit.”

Idemudia helped lead the program a second year, and since then, new classes of MPL students have collaborated to continue organizing the event.

“It feels great to have created something with the intention of generating change, and see it evolve and go places you never could have imagined,” said Idemudia, who now works as an urban planner for the City of Los Angeles. “When forming the program, I definitely had the intention this would be something that would last.”

Legacy of service

USC Price Master of Planning students (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

This is the first time the ASPD has won the national-level award, created in 2008, which recognizes the exciting and creative activities carried out by Planning Student Organizations that enliven student life and contribute to their communities.

“ASPD’s ‘Planning for College: Student Outreach Series’ program was selected in the category of Community Outreach for its impressive series of events and workshops that bring together Master of Planning graduate students with underrepresented high school students,” said Monica Groh, director of emerging professionals for the APA. “Kudos to these USC students for volunteering their time, experience and talents to advancing the public understanding of planning and the planning profession.”

Recognition for the series is nothing new. ASPD previously earned two local APA awards for the program. In 2013, Idemudia was selected for an award from the Los Angeles chapter for creating Planning for College, and just last year the local chapter gave ASPD its Public Outreach Award of Merit.

Professor Marlon Boarnet (Photo by Tom Queally)

“This award is really exciting and makes us feel good about the work we’ve done,” said Anna Evans-Goldstein, who served as president of ASPD this past year. “But we’ve been doing it for a number of years now because people see how meaningful it is and then want to do it again the next year. Seeing the reactions of the kids is motivation enough to keep it going.”

Evans-Goldstein added that ASPD recently widened the program’s reach.

“We expanded it this year to include more than our multi-year commitment to GEARUP — we also worked with three additional schools this year, putting in a much bigger effort to reach out to more kids,” Evans-Goldstein said.

As part of the award, the ASPD receives a $1,000 donation from the APA. However, Idemudia noted that the real reward will be the attention the award brings to the program, which provides a framework for other institutions to model from and establish their own youth engagement planning initiatives.

“These national awards from national planning associations are like case studies,” Idemudia said. “People will now look at this program and how they can replicate it or build on it. It goes beyond a cool plaque and into changing the realm of how we educate in the planning profession.”