Price students teach high schoolers about planning field, shaping their neighborhoods

December 12, 2017

USC Price MPL students lead high school guests from nearby Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools on an urban planning group activity. (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan) More photos available on Flickr »

By Matthew Kredell

USC Price School of Public Policy Master of Planning students in the Associated Students of Planning and Development (ASPD) continued their award-winning Planning for College program — hosting high school sophomores from Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools on Nov. 17 to introduce them to the field of urban planning.

Earlier this year, the American Planning Association named ASPD the 2017 Outstanding Planning Student Organization in the category of community outreach for the Planning for College program, which was started by Nina Idemudia when she was an MPL student in 2013.

In subsequent years, the ASPD has continued the partnership with GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), an LAUSD program that aims to increase student success in high school with counseling, tutoring, mentoring and education about college and careers.

This year’s half-day event featured information on applying to college from Sarah Esquivel, associate director of the USC Price admissions office, a panel discussion with current Price students, a tour of the University Park campus and a group exercise to create a complete street.

“We wanted to get students who really had no prior experience in planning to see how it works and how it impacts their own community,” said Diana De Los Santos, who coordinated the event for ASPD. “I feel like, to really become planners, we need to work with everyone in the community, especially high school students.”

De Los Santos moderated the panel, which featured students from different levels and areas of study to provide various perspectives — MPL student Natalie Hernandez, freshman in real estate development Megan Moore and senior in public policy Laura Dominguez. The students discussed how they decided what they wanted to study in school, their favorite classes and their experiences in applying for college.

Planners and problem solvers

Photo by Deirdre Flanagan

In the “complete streets” session, the high school students broke into groups with the task of taking a stretch of Olympic Boulevard they are familiar with near their school and adding improvements they thought would help the community, paying specific attention to making the streets accessible for cars, bikes, buses and pedestrians. Suggestions included adding a hospital and a pedestrian bridge.

“We want to get them to consider who ultimately you are serving in the community when you make a certain street, and how you make sure the street can function for multiple people,” said Nicholas Ryu, a second-year MPL student who led the session. “It’s a good exercise to get young high school students to deliberate about the potential benefits and consequences of a street item. By choosing a street they know, it makes it something personal to them.”

Each of the ASPD students said they didn’t learn about the field of urban planning as an area of study until they were researching graduate school.

“I love being able to introduce students to planning and policy because, when I was in high school, I never knew what planning was,” said Jessica Reyes, a second-year MPL student who handled the funding for the program as ASPD’s finance chair. “We have very limited ideas of the things we can major in during high school. There’s really this whole other world for students, and they may not know that they can have a role in fixing the issues they see in their community.”