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Master’s degree key to more inspiring career path
SFU alumnus Danny Ross is filled with enthusiasm and inspiration as he graduates with a master of resource management (planning) this month.
That wasn’t the case a few years ago when he was working in a comfortable, mid-management job at a crown corporation, despite the work/life balance the position offered.
“It was a cushy job, but uninspiring,” he says, recalling how much happier he was during an international youth internship project in Mexico, where he worked on community engagement for an urban design project. His project focused on re-imagining and re-designing public spaces, using community voices.
After two years at the crown corporation, Ross began to seriously reconsider his career options. Many informational interviews later, he realized he would need a master’s degree if he wanted to work in the urban planning and design field.
So, at age 28, he quit his job and returned to SFU full-time to pursue a two-year master’s degree in resource and environmental management (MRM), with a concentration in urban planning.
It was a busy time. He juggled a part-time job as a teaching assistant while writing his MRM planning thesis, taking courses, and completing internships with both the District of North Vancouver and the architectural firm IBI Group. He was also president of the Resource and Environmental Planning Students Association.
The risky move and hard work paid off. He convocates this October with a master of resource and environmental management, in planning, and is already working for the SFU Community Trust at UniverCity as a junior development manager.
“The degree program was all worthwhile because it put me in the running to get this job,” he says, noting that his supervisor, Mark Roseland, tapped him for the position. “The program gave me basic planning skills.”
Still, he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as an urban planner. He’s excited about the possibilities of sustainable development, underpinned by his urban planning knowledge.
“I see myself becoming a development manager and then vice-president for one of the more sustainability-focused development companies in Vancouver,” he says. “I want to develop sustainable housing that has a community focus and meets housing demand in the city I grew up in.”
Co-op Q&A With Danny
August 18, 2017
What inspired you to join the co-op program?
There are several reasons why I decided to join the co-op program. First of all, my degree, Resource and Environmental Management (Planning) is very focused on regional and environmental planning and adaptive management. These fields are of great interest to me; however, I have always wanted to work in urban development planning. I viewed the SFU Co-op program as an opportunity to gain this experience while still completing a Master’s degree in resource and environmental management, allowing me to develop a diverse skill set that would be attractive to future employers upon graduation. To this effect, I will graduate from my program eligible for certification with the federal Canadian Institute of Planners and provincial Planning Institute of BC.
Next, I believe that Co-op positions are extremely valuable professional development opportunities. I wanted to supplement my Master’s degree with practical, on the ground work experience. It is one thing to spend 2 years completing your courses and developing and (hopefully) writing a thesis, however it is another to actually have some foundational industry experience under your belt before graduation.
Where did you work?
From May to September 2017 I worked as a Planning Assistant for the City of New Westminster (CNW) Development Services Department.
What was your role (what type of work did you do)? What were some of your responsibilities?
The general scope of my role was to provide support to the main Planning staff. This required a thorough understanding of the Zoning Bylaw so I could assist developers, realtors, and homeowners face-to-face as well as via telephone. Many of their inquiries were regarding how land may be used, where buildings and other structures can be located, the types of buildings that are permitted and how they may be used, the lot sizes and dimensions, parking requirements, building heights and setbacks from the street (to name but a few).
A great deal of my time was spent using internal GIS mapping software. I used GIS to map and analyze the results of several community-based petitions, to respond to public inquiries, to locate and differentiate the sizes and feasibility of constructing various building types and lanes across the city, and to determine what properties fall within certain radiuses of SkyTrain stations. I compiled and stored this information in Excel so it could be easily accessed by all CNW staff.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of some of my duties during my Summer 2017 Co-Op term:
- Front Counter support work
- Preparing/Writing LUPC Reports
- GIS mapping and analysis
- EDMS (electronic database management software) filing and maintenance
- Prospero (data storage and analysis software) searches for public inquiry
- Background Research – Zoning best practices
- Background Research – Duplex/Triplex best practices
There have also been several major projects that I have contributed to such as:
- The incorporation of laneway and carriage homes into allowable uses within several of the CNW residential land use zones: background research, GIS mapping and analysis, website development, and public handout materials
- The drafting of a set of design guidelines for a new Transit Plaza: liaising with developers, CNW Engineering, and Translink, and drafting guidelines for urban design of privately owned public plaza
- The drafting of a set of design guidelines that will guide the construction of the new Queen’s Park Arenex
- The creation of a Communications Strategy for the CNW Official Community Plan Monitoring Report project
How did the skills/knowledge developed in the classroom apply to your job? What did you learn?
The REM (Planning) program does not focus on municipal planning theory and practice as much as it does emphasize the importance of local governments in planning for sustainable development. In this regard, my learning curve was quite steep but extremely valuable. Nevertheless, the program is extremely work-intensive in the first year, and effective time management is of the utmost importance to ensure success. My experience in REM juggling so many different courses with multiple projects and conflicting timelines has provided me with a strong ability to manage my workload. If it were not for this, I would have had a terrible time in such a busy work environment.
What have you learned through your Co-op experience?
My summer 2017 work term was a great introduction to how planning functions outside of the classroom, to how BC’s different planning tools are being implemented and to what degree of efficiency. Not only did I sharpen my technical and interpersonal planning skills, I made strong connections with the planners, engineers, and other key staff at the CNW - individuals who will without a doubt be a part of my career in the future. This is something I simply could not have experienced if I had stayed in the classroom over the summer. I worked with a relatively small planning team in a very busy, ambitious, and socially minded city. The staff here encouraged me to try different things and gain experience on different projects to gain a better understanding of where I wanted to focus my career. I am very grateful for their encouragement in this regard.
What advice do you have for future Co-op students?
My advice for future Co-op students is to approach each work term without any expectations. Be open, dynamic, and willing to take on lots of new professional experiences knowing that you are not an expert yet. With any luck, your supervisors will help challenge you by exposing you to diverse projects that will help you find your niche in your chosen field. Lastly, always remember that things can be very different on the ground than in the classroom, but having the idealism that University nurtures so well is really important for being creative and innovative in the professional world.