Senior Planner, WSP USA
Greetings fellow students and alumni! A graduate of the University of Tennessee (M.S. 2012, B.A. 2008), I came to be interested in pursuing geography as an undergraduate major by asking the question many of us loathe hearing when telling friends and family what we are studying: “What are you going to do with that?” During my freshman year, I reconnected with an old high school friend who was an upperclassman in the department. His response highlighted the breadth of possibilities the discipline could offer, one of geography’s great strengths and likely why it is often misunderstood. After a few weeks of Geography 101 with Dr. Peggy Gripshover, I went to Advising Services and formally declared. My undergraduate experience was rather broad, with economic and urban geography coursework mixed with an internship at the Dendrochronology lab.
The summer following my junior year, I secured an internship in my hometown of Memphis with the Memphis / Shelby County Division of Planning and Development. This experience piqued my interest in urban and community planning, and ultimately led me to pursue graduate studies with the Department. Under the direction of Dr. Ron Foresta, my graduate coursework emphasized urban theory, urban design, and GIS, with supplementary coursework in architecture and urban design from the College of Architecture + Design. My graduate paper, “The Non-Public Leadership of the Revitalization of Downtown Asheville, North Carolina,” explored the roles of private and non-profit sector agents in the remarkable turnaround of downtown Asheville. I particularly enjoyed my time as a teaching assistant (TA), especially the opportunity to work with professors under whom I had studied a year or two earlier.
After applying for numerous positions in the planning field, I was hired as a Transportation Planner with Gresham Smith, an architecture and engineering firm based in Nashville. My early career focus was on environmental review for transportation projects, ensuring compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). I later had the chance to work on a variety of planning efforts, including large-scale regional plans, corridor-level plans and studies, and active transportation (i.e., bicycle and pedestrian) plans. The overwhelming majority of these projects were for clients in Tennessee, from the state department of transportation to small cities and towns, which has given me the opportunity to work in communities all over the state. One constant throughout all these efforts was the direct application of technical skills I obtained through the department, especially geospatial analysis, cartography, and data synthesis.
I recently left Gresham Smith after ten years to work in the Nashville office of WSP USA, an engineering professional services firm. Like my previous role, this position emphasizes working with clients in Tennessee while also providing planning and environmental services throughout the Southeast. While it has been an adjustment being the “new guy” for the first time in a decade, I adore my new colleagues and look forward to what challenges 2022 brings.
The planning profession mirrors geography closely in the sense that planners tend to be a diverse group in terms of background and interest. While many have postgraduate planning degrees, many others have backgrounds in political science, ecology, economics, public administration, or sociology. That said, I feel like my geography education uniquely prepared me for the demands of a planning career and that I likely would not be doing this without my academic experiences. To anyone considering a career in planning, please know that this is a profession that recognizes and understands the value of a geography education.
I have enjoyed reconnecting with the Department of Geography in recent years. If I can be of any assistance to anyone with an interest in the planning profession, please do not hesitate to reach out.