By: Eric Ruble
Students count on faculty and staff for support. But when that support comes from a peer, it provides a unique sense of camaraderie that can’t be replicated.
One such student is Lilly Nie, a Chicago-area native and soon-to-be Price graduate with both a bachelor’s in urban studies and planning and master’s of urban planning through Price’s progressive degree curriculum. She completed the accelerated program in just four years.
Her own decision to move 1,700 miles away to attend USC Price wasn’t easy – but she knew that learning in Los Angeles’ dynamic environment was the perfect choice.
Hoping to help others find the right fit for school, she quickly joined Price Student Ambassadors – a group that connects with prospective students to share everything the School has to offer.
“It wasn’t until I physically moved to Los Angeles that I really began to see that my personal lived experiences here as a resident of this city inform how I think of urban planning,” said Nie.
Nie understands the value of mentorship, and seizes every opportunity to help incoming students and current undergraduates alike.
“I am confident in my lived experience as a student, and I feel like just that in itself gives me a lot of insight to offer to underclassmen who maybe aren’t sure about what classes to take or where to get involved,” she said.
Like many incoming students, she sought like-minded peers to connect with; and in doing so, she uncovered an opportunity.
“As a freshman going into Price, one of the biggest things I wanted was to find a community,” Nie said. “I began to see, there is a big need for this. We could be building something special here.”
To better amplify undergraduate student voices in her area of study, Nie co-founded a new student association: Undergraduate Planning at Price (UP). Along with her six co-founders, she grew the group and worked to build a place of belonging.
“We really just wanted to have a space where people could come together and be able to share interests and passions and geek out about the same things,” Nie said.
Despite the pandemic, UP brought its members together through a number of virtual events. Among its most popular were “coffee chats” with Price faculty members, including Professors Annette Kim, Lisa Schweitzer, Todd Gish and LaVonna Lewis.
Now that her graduation date is approaching, Nie has her heart set on the public sector where she hopes to continue her theme of community support, specifically at the municipal level. For now, she isn’t sure exactly which career path she’ll take.
“I think it’s difficult for a lot of seniors and graduating folks to admit that they’re still figuring it out and they don’t know,” she said. “It’s exacerbated by the fact that we’re in a pandemic and job prospects are very uncertain and complicated.”
She said that when she started applying to jobs, she was coming from a position of fear and insecurity. At the same time, through the Price Professional Mentor Program, Nie met Jessica Harleaux, a senior project coordinator at Arellano Associates.
Harleaux encouraged Nie to remind herself of how valuable she is to potential employers. Nie said Harleaux also helped her learn to reflect critically on what matters most in her future job.
“Knowing what you do not want to compromise on and knowing what you’re willing to compromise on are two very important things that I just didn’t start the job-hunting process doing,” she said.
Whatever step Nie takes next, she is ready to tackle the opportunities that lie ahead – just as she jumped at the chance to guide others, advocate for her fellow students and develop a framework of support at USC Price that will empower undergraduates for years to come.