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USC Price grad students help high schoolers ‘plan’ for college, careers

Urban planning is a field that affects everyone — whether young people realize it or not

Price students working in community
Benjamin Frazier, right, president of the Associated Students of Planning and Development, works with students from Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools. (Photo/Deirdre Flanagan)

Can high school students get ready for college while also prepping for a career in urban planning?

Forty-two sophomores from nearby Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools attained a better understanding of those questions through the Planning for College workshop hosted by the Associated Students of Planning and Development (ASPD) on Feb. 17 at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

After a full day of hands-on activities and interactive presentations, the students learned more about how planning can change an area —designing a city street with the needs of drivers and pedestrians in mind — and imagining their ideal neighborhood. They also had the opportunity to delve into the college application process.

“Nobody really talks about urban planning in high school,” RFK student Jeremiah Guerrero said following the workshop. “Now that I think about it, I see different aspects of other communities that I wish my community had, which makes you really think about things differently.”

Even among the Master of Planning students at USC Price who volunteered their time to organize and host the event, few went into college wanting to be a planner. ASPD president Benjamin Frazier didn’t learn about city planning until he was a junior in college.

“It’s a very important field that probably doesn’t get as much attention as it should — it affects everyone,” Frazier said. “It’s ingrained in our lives whether you realize it or not. Even if they don’t want to be a planner or developer, they can still have a say in what their community looks like and how it’s changed.”

Inspiring kids to excel in school and beyond

The workshop was in collaboration with GEAR UP 4 LA, a program that aims to increase student success in high school through counseling, tutoring, mentoring and education about college and careers.

“It’s such a wonderful experience for them because so many times they’ve been taken on field trips and they look at buildings from the outside,” said Penny Holland, a GEAR UP counselor at RFK who led the visit. “This one, they go in and get to understand this particular major. They’re actually participating on a college campus, interacting with the graduate students and thinking, ‘Hey, these kids are kind of like us. We could be here, too.’”

USC Price Professor David Sloane opened the event by sharing with the students that, like many of them aspire to be, he and his brother were the first in their immediate family to graduate from college.

“I encourage you to think about what you want to do, how you want to go through life, what is your goal and how do you want to attain that goal,” Sloane said.

Also volunteering were MPL students Cassie Gogreve, James Hamilton, Justin Pascone, Gwen Von Klan, Dylan Stevenson, Yurida Ramos, Sabrina Church, Steven Counts Imara and Chris Purcell, as well as MPA student Marilyn Alvarez.

Planning and shaping better communities

This is the third year ASPD has organized the workshop. The day’s activities included a neighborhood mapping exercise, led by Gogreve, in which the students were asked to draw the streets around their house, and a “Before & After” session, led by Hamilton, in which students looked at pictures of Southern California areas before and after development.

In addition, ASPD brought in Sarah Esquivel, assistant director of recruitment and admission at USC Price, to get the kids thinking about their own college planning. She broke the students up into a group of applicants and mock admissions committee to illustrate what is most valued and detrimental to a candidate. A Streetmix session, led by Pascone, had the kids thinking about the different aspects that make up a good street.

Everyone’s an expert in their own neighborhood.

Justin Pascone

“Urban planning is one of those things I think everyone inherently knows,” Pascone said. “Everyone’s an expert in their own neighborhood. We supply them the tools and technical details of it, and then we get to see kids come up with these awesome ideas.”

In the final capstone, the kids were challenged to create three-dimensional visions of their ideal city using building blocks, toys and random objects. The MPL students participated in the same activity themselves this past fall semester during a workshop offered on campus by urban planner James Rojas, and they were able to borrow the supplies from Rojas to recreate the activity.

“I didn’t know anything about urban planning,” said RFK student Ilka Reyes. “I really like helping my community out and try to be involved with it. I didn’t know I could make a career out of it, and that’s something I would like to do.”

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