Graduates of our program have parlayed the knowledge and skills they have gained in pursuing their degree or diploma into rewarding, urban-related careers in planning, project management, post-secondary education, consulting, community outreach, sustainability, and urban research for employers as diverse as municipal governments around the region, Metro Vancouver, Translink, the Portland Hotel Society, BC Housing, Thomas Consultants, HB Lanarc, Stantec Consulting, the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, and HASTE (Hub for Action on School Transportation Emissions). Alumni testimonials suggest the importance of the SFU Urban Studies experience to their success.
A native of Victoria, BC, Kevin completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science at UBC, focusing on Canadian politics and public opinion. After graduation, he began working as a communications assistant to four Vancouver City Councillors, learning how Council worked, reading reports, doing research and writing memos and press releases. What attracted him to SFU Urban Studies?
"I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of urban issues at a time when I was immersed in work on city policies. The flexibility of SFU’s Urban Studies program allowed me to work full time and advance my academic knowledge."
Kevin credits his graduate education with providing him both the academic tools to properly understand and analyze public policy, as well as a theoretical background for how cities and communities function and grow. It also connected him to a great network of urban studies students and alumni who regularly share information and events on city issues.
Kevin now works as the Director of Policy and Communications in the City of Vancouver’s Mayor’s Office. This work involves researching and analyzing a variety of policy issues, from affordable housing to community economic development to transportation.
Before joining the Urban Studies program, Rebecca earned a Bachelor of Arts degree (Geography) from the University of Victoria and gained several years of experience working in the field of environmental management. Wanting to refocus her career on sustainable development in the built environment, she was drawn to the Master of Urban Studies program for its approach at using the metropolitan Vancouver region as a learning laboratory and because it allowed Rebecca to combine part-time studies with a full-time workload.
Rebecca currently works as a sustainability specialist for Perkins+Will Canada, an architecture and urban design firm. She provides expertise to design teams and organizations on a variety of work related to sustainability concepts and high performance building design. Rebecca works extensively with sustainable development metrics and rating systems, and has contributed to community energy plans, sustainability plans, green building strategies, indicator and benchmarking programs, and sustainable land use planning. In addition to her work and Perkins+Will, Rebecca teaches part-time at the School of Construction and the Environment at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.
"The Master of Urban Studies program afforded me a solid understanding of the complexity of urban development issues, but most importantly for career development, it lent credibility to the new and evolving profession of specialized sustainability work."
Andre decided to continue his graduate education at SFU after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and earning a certificate in Labour Studies. He saw the Urban Studies program as a logical next step since it provided practical knowledge and workplace skills for someone interested in urban management and administration. During his studies, Andre made good use of field trips to other jurisdictions such as Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington to sharpen his comparative lens and better connect theories and knowledge attained in classes.
Upon graduation, Andre joined the Village of Harrison Hot Springs as their Community and Economic Development Officer. In this role, he was involved developing an economic development plan, community branding strategy, community needs assessment, corporate greenhouse gas emission reduction strategy, solid waste services, parks and trails master plan. He is currently the Manager of Planning and Community Services.
"The Master of Urban Studies degree provided me with the required knowledge and connections to do the job with confidence and skill."
For Michelle, obtaining a graduate diploma in urban studies was a route to not only better career opportunities, but also a way to increase her capacity to contribute to the conversations about urban issues going on all around her. Michelle’s undergraduate degree was in geography and political science and she had also studied urban planning at UBC, but by the time she entered SFU’s Urban Studies Program, she had been working at the City of Vancouver for ten years. “At that point I felt a bit stuck in my career and in myself too. So, I did it for more than just professional growth.”
One of Michelle’s passions is for transportation planning and she found that in that area, her graduate studies “opened up doors she had never dreamed of.” She was working for the city and taking a course in transportation issues while preparations for the 2010 Winter Olympics were underway. Because she had been talking about the course at work, she was recommended to be on the City of Vancouver’s olympic transportation team and ended up as transportation coordinator for Athlete’s Village. That led to similar opportunities at London’s 2012 Olympic games, the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the 2015 PanAm games in Toronto.
While studying in the program, Michelle worked in various positions in records management and freedom of information (FOI) at the City of Vancouver and she is now a senior FOI analyst. Michelle enjoys her work because she has a strong commitment to transparency and believes it contributes to better governance. “I agree with trying to make as much public as possible. That’s always been something that’s interested me. I think it improves people’s vision of the city,” she says. Michelle adds that the graduate diploma in urban studies is a good option for those who can’t or don't want to take on the commitment required to do a full-length research project, such as a thesis, but who still want to broaden their horizons and opportunities. “The Urban Studies Program is not just about planning positions,” she notes. “It helped reawaken my mind to possibilities.”
Graham's career path is a good example of how combining education with extra-curricular activities can take you to some interesting and unexpected places. While pursuing his undergraduate degree in political science at UBC, Graham became involved with student government, including advocating for the creation of the U-Pass program. That interest in transportation initially led him to a post-graduation position at the university, then to TransLink and finally to Stantec, where he’s now worked for almost ten years. Along the way, his desire to understand complex transportation issues exposed him to ideas about urban planning and he realized that a broader and more nuanced understanding of cities would increase his effectiveness as an urban practitioner. He then chose to pursue a graduate diploma in urban studies, partly because of the part-time option SFU offered. He later transferred to the master’s program.
Graham started off at Stantec in proposal-writing and loves the sustainability consulting work he’s since grown into, with the help of his master’s degree. He describes his time in the urban studies program as “a really rich experience in terms of the cohort I was with.” He counts the interaction with other early and mid-career professionals that he got through the program as one of the best things about his time there. “It actually changed the course of my career because I was involved in transportation, but through urban studies and some of the exposure I gained there to certain people and ideas, I got interested in sustainability more broadly defined.” Graham counts himself lucky because his work as a senior associate and sustainability leader at Stantec has given him opportunities to travel within Canada and provides him with projects that vary widely in terms of clients, scale and subject matter. This makes for an intellectually stimulating work life that allows him to occasionally delve deeper into some of his special interests – and get paid for it.
While in the Urban Studies Program, Graham won awards from the Canadian Urban Transit Association and the Downtown Vancouver Business Association. He’s continued that high level of contribution since graduating by being active in business, sustainability and green building organizations. A version of his thesis, which looked at the idea of the conscious city, was published in the journal Urban Environment in 2009.
When Lainya began her master’s degree in urban studies in 2005, she was already working in a entry-level technical planning position for the City of Surrey, but knew she needed an advanced degree to broaden her career options and deepen her understanding of cities. She chose to build on her undergraduate geography degree by applying to the SFU Urban Studies Program because doing so allowed her to pursue her education while continuing to work full-time. She also liked learning in a climate with other working professionals. “Everybody had something they could share and we learned from each other about concrete examples of good governance and good urban design in the real world.”
While completing her degree, including a final research project looking at the City of Surrey’s vulnerability to flooding induced by climate change, Lainya became a planner for the City of Surrey and later for the Regional District of Nanaimo. She worked for the regional district for nine years, including five years as a senior planner. In October 2016, she became the manager of current planning and subdivision for the City of Nanaimo, where she supervises a staff of 10, advises council, sets operational targets and works to ensure that new development is line with relevant plans and policies as well as council and community goals. Obtaining her master’s of urban studies was a key part of this path, Lainya notes: “It allowed me to make the jump to say I’m a professional planner and I have valuable ideas and approaches to contribute to community development, as well as to compete for a broader range of jobs with varying degrees of responsibility.” Based on her combined experience and education, Lainya became a registered professional planner in 2012. She has also served on the Vancouver Island (North) chapter executive of the Planning Institute of B.C.
Lainya credits her graduate education and the broader career experience it led to for teaching her that good planning must be more comprehensive than just establishing and implementing the right bylaws, plans and policies. “What I think I learned is that development is as much or more grounded in relationship-building. If those relationships foster trust - between council, community, interdepartmentally, and collaboratively with developers - then successful outcomes are much more likely.”
Billy came to SFU after a career as an agent, promoter, manager and talent buyer in the Canadian music industry. He was looking to build upon and diversify from his undergraduate education in tourism management and was interested in the cultural side of urban studies theory. He credits the Master of Urban Studies program with helping him learn about how cities work and for providing a theoretical foundation upon which to understand the urban condition.
"It gave me the credentials to teach at a post-secondary institution and informed my world view that I take into the classroom every day."
Billy is a lecturer in the Department of Tourism Management at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC.
Erin’s interest in sustainability and urban planning led her to the Urban Studies program. She chose SFU Urban Studies for the quality of its instructors, relevant and interesting courses, and the program’s open mind to the integrated nature of urban systems (economics, transportation, social services, etc.). Currently employed as the Executive Director of HUB: Your Cycling Connection, a non-profit organization that is at the centre of efforts in the Vancouver region to promote cycling as a mode of transportation, she credits her Master’s education for providing her with added credibility as an urban professional, while also teaching her hard skills such as statistics collection and analysis, and critical thinking that is needed daily in her advocacy and programming work.
"The value add I brought to my employer was an important part of them choosing me for this role."
In reflecting on the highlights of her experience in the Master of Urban Studies program, Erin cites the professors who were engaged and interested in student learning, both within and beyond the classroom (including during field trips to Portland and Seattle), and the friendships made that now form part of her personal and professional networks.