By Dylan Fisher ~ Reprinted with permission from The New Planner, APA’s quarterly publication by and for planning students.
At Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, spring semester saw a new relationship grow between planning students and members of APA’s Indiana Chapter. Thirty APA members and 28 planning students were matched for “Just Lunch!,” a program where professional planners volunteered to meet with students, give them an office tour, and then just have lunch and talk about planning.
Ball State’s Student Planning Association (SPA), with the help of assistant professor Vera Adams, created “Just Lunch!” APA Indiana board members volunteered first and help spread the word at the spring 2013 chapter conference. Professor Adams provided SPA with contact information and SPA began pairing students.
“Just Lunch!” was created to give every student the opportunity to meet with an APA member to ask questions about the profession, discuss future education and career choices, and begin establishing network connections. Each student came back from the program with a different experience and new advice to share.
“This was a way that seasoned professionals could provide value-add to the students’ education without extensive sustained commitment,” said Shane Burkhardt, Indiana Chapter president. “The program worked well because it did not require an initial major commitment of time from either the professional or the student. It was literally ‘just lunch.'”
“Having this opportunity was extremely beneficial,” student Ellen Forthofer said. “It helped to answer some of my questions about the profession and start networking with practicing professionals.”
Meetings with City of Bloomington Planners
Students Seth Koons and Derek Walker traveled to Bloomington, Indiana, where they met with James Roach and Nate Nickel. Roach is a senior zoning planner for the City of Bloomington and Nickel is a senior long-range planner.
The first half of their visit consisted of an office tour. Roach and Nickel showed the two students comprehensive plan and zoning maps for the city, introduced them to their colleagues, and explained the different jobs and positions within the city’s planning office. The two professionals then took Koons and Walker on a tour around Bloomington, showing them recent projects that the planning department had been involved in. They pointed out historic structures in the area and explained how adaptive-reuse developments helped preserve historic buildings and enhance the community.
“It was a great experience,” said Koons. “I got a look into the life of a planner in the public sector. This opportunity only encouraged me to further my career path.” Walker added: “More than anything, this opportunity gave me a better understanding of what happens in the planning profession.”
Student Haley James also visited the City of Bloomington for her “Just Lunch!” meeting with Tom Micuda, Bloomington’s planning director, and Katie Bannon, a zoning and long-range planner. “I learned that every city has different obstacles in economics and politics that must be addressed,” said James.
The Private Sector and APA Conference
Student Ellen Forthofer met with Adam Peaper, a planner with R.W. Armstrong, an interdisciplinary engineering firm with an office in Indianapolis. After completing a tour of the office — located in historic Union Station — the group toured downtown Indianapolis before stopping into Champs for lunch.
“During the entire visit, I was able to ask questions about my future education and career in the planning profession,” said Forthofer. “It was very helpful to talk with someone who had been through the entire process. Mr. Peaper provided great advice and seemed genuinely interested in my specific situation.”
Student Daniel Greenfield also traveled to Indianapolis to meet with Shane Burkhardt, a Ball State urban planning and development graduate who works as a planner for R.W. Armstrong. “We had a light-hearted conversation discussing private vs. public practices, personal goals and hobbies,” Greenfield said. “Shane provided me with great insight regarding his company and the workload and time expectations for both sectors. He stressed the importance of writing skills with the profession. I asked Shane several questions about how to get hired, what employers are looking for, and the workforce quality of life for planners.”
Student Brock Goodwin met with Jason Eakin during APA’s 2013 National Planning Conference in Chicago. Eakin is the assistant planning director for Monroe County, Indiana. While grabbing lunch between conference sessions, they talked about planning in the public sector. They focused primarily upon the changes being made within Indiana cities such as public transit and walkability. “I learned that public sector planning can be exciting and rewarding, and offers many opportunities within the field,” said Goodwin.
A Huge Success
The “Just Lunch!” program was a huge success. The students gained more than they expected from their visits. Some came back with potential internship opportunities for the summer, while others returned with a new spark of interest in the profession.
“As a chapter, we look forward to partnering with Ball State and continuing the program in the future,” chapter president Burkhardt said.