The Gibbs Spotlight: Anna Siprikova

GCA Communications intern Kali Curtis (K) spoke with Anna Siprikova (S), a Regional + City Planning alumna here at Gibbs! We sat down with Siprikova to learn about her experiences with the RCPL program and her work at NACTO-GDCI as the Program Manager for the Streets for Kids Program. She graduated with her Master of Regional + City Planning (2009) from the Gibbs College of Architecture. Read on for highlights or click the link below to access the full podcast.

K: Hello everyone. Welcome to the Gibbs Spotlight. My name is Kali Curtis and I’m a communications intern at the Gibbs College of Architecture. Today, we are talking to Anna Siprikova. Anna Siprikova is a Regional + City Planning alumna at Gibbs College. She graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from the Moscow Architectural Institute in 2009, where she specialized in Restoration and Reconstruction. She graduated with her Master of Regional + City Planning from the University of Oklahoma in 2015. She is currently NACTO-GDCI’s Program Manager.

So, can you tell me a bit about yourself? 

S: Sure. So, my name is Anna Siprikova. I was born and raised in Moscow, Russia, and I’m currently serving as NACTO-GDCI’s program manager, where I’m very passionate about GDCI. And actually, the acronym stands for Global Designing Cities Initiative. And its mission is to inspire a shift towards safe, sustainable, and healthy cities by transforming streets around the world. And NACTO’s the National Association of City Transportation Officials. We’re a nonprofit based in New York. 

K: Thank you so much. That’s really interesting. It sounds like a great cause. So, what brought you to the Gibbs College of Architecture? 

S: That’s actually a very interesting story. So, in 2013, I received a Fulbright scholarship. And part of the deal was that Fulbright Commission’s applies on your behalf to various universities. So basically, they make this choice. And then like, several universities accept you, and then they have their own process of selecting the university, and then they just give you like one final offer.  

So, I didn’t know anything about University of Oklahoma before I got involved with Fulbright. But it definitely turned out to be a great match. And I think it’s kind of what brought me is a combination of, you know, luck, dedication and some serendipity that happened that this was, you know, the Commission’s choice, and I was accepted to the program. So, it’s not a very traditional way of getting in. 

K: Thank you. Yeah, I was not familiar with the Fulbright Program. But that sounds like a great opportunity that you got, and I’m glad that you got matched with Gibbs College of Architecture.  

S: Yeah.  

K: So why did you decide to go into planning? 

S: Yeah, that’s another good question. So, my first degrees in architecture, and I focused on restoration and reconstruction. And during my undergraduate years, I had a chance to participate in exchange program with the MIT. And I was lucky enough to also actually go and like visit the MIT campus and their architecture school was kind of part of the planning department as well. So, this is how I learned about kind of urban planning and the way it’s taught in the US, because it’s very different as a field.  

And back then in Russia it was still quite an emerging field, kind of in a contemporary sense. There was a lot of kind of Soviet planning, but it was less focused on people. And I think what fascinated me a lot was this focus on like, you, you know, you serve communities, you serve people, you make people’s lives better, versus like a very design driven focus that I was used to. And I realize that this is exactly what I’m passionate about, like, I don’t want to be just designing things I want to be like helping improve people’s lives.

Enrique Soro street in Santiago, Chile was temporarily transformed into a play hub. Children’s journeys to school were improved by adding marked crossings and lowering the vehicle speeds.

K: Thank you so much. It sounds like you really found like a great position for yourself that fits your values. So, what aspects of the RCPL curriculum it gives have helped you the most throughout your professional career?

S: So RCPL program I think is uniquely positioned in a way that is very well connected to a lot of like local practitioners and it has a lot of kind of practical experiences, assignments, a lot of things I was doing, like, while I was pursuing my master’s degree, were not just like theoretical things, we’re doing a lot of hands on projects, going to visit some small towns, not so small towns, talking to other planners who are already practicing. I think that was a great invaluable experience.

And they were not some of the superstars because they also don’t tell you much. They were actually like real people who just graduated maybe three or five years ago, and I think they shared the most kind of interesting and helpful advice and share their career path. So, I feel like this kind of combination of practice and hands on and kind of understanding, like you’re not starting in a vacuum. You’re actually very connected to practitioners and community and professional network that really like helped me during my career.

K: Thank you so much. So really the RCPL curriculum at Gibbs College, since it’s very practical and hands on, it really just allows you to prepare for your career and then also develop the ability to build your network.

S: Yeah, exactly. And you kind of already can understand what you like, what you don’t like, like where you can ask for more advice. Myself and other classmates, they got various internships and you can even do it multiple times. So, you kind of really get a sense of like, what you’re learning and why.

K: Thanks so much. That makes a lot of sense. How, in your opinion, do the programs at Gibbs College differ from programs at other schools?

S: That’s a tough question. Because I don’t have a lot of experience studying and evaluating different programs. But I think what definitely kind of stands out that like once you are accepted, like once you’re part of the Gibbs College, you’re really part of like very welcoming and warm community consisting of current students, staff, like former students that really support you through the years, because again, during my years, I had a few classmates who shifted their majors.

Like someone transitioned to law school, but still combined it with a planning focus, and got a lot of support and, you know, encouragement, and was endorsed to pursue that path. Again, I think this has a lot to do about like values, about people who you’re interacting with, I don’t think every school would be that flexible and supportive.

K: Thank you so much. I’m really glad to hear that. So, what advice would you give to current RCPL students?

S: I think that Gibbs College and RCPL program actually offers a lot of elective classes and a lot of different opportunities that you can connect to Landscape Architecture students you can participate in, like Urban Land Institute design competitions, or like other competitions, or different projects that are happening now.

So, my advice is to really kind of step out of the comfort zone. And while you’re studying, try something that you don’t see yourself doing, like, as your career, but still try it. Because this is the only chance when you can actually experiment and, you know, meet different people, try new things. It will be much harder later, because then you’ll be more focused on your specialization and it will be much harder to kind of, you know, shift jobs and like change industries completely, but really take this opportunity. And there’s plenty of them at Gibbs College. So yeah, take anything kind of that feels hard and kind of, you know, test yourself, and you’ll see that it actually helps you in all the other areas as well.

K: Thank you so much. That’s really great advice. So really, you would advise students to go outside of their current discipline and have some interdisciplinary experience and I think that’s really great. Thank you.

S: Yeah, sure. Because that’s, you never know where you’ll end up in, like, in real life, then you work with different professionals. So, it’s kind of makes it easier, you know, how to speak the language, because again, in my experience, I remember I was part of a competition. We had MBA students, we had students from landscape architecture, and you know, they speak very different languages. But once you work as a team, you actually kind of you learn how to communicate and how to achieve common goals as well.

K: Thank you so much. And then I can also see that being a benefit as well. Because if you can learn to work with these different disciplines, and you can work on a team that has all these different perspectives, as well.

S: Yeah.

 K: And so, can you tell me about the streets for Kids program?

S: So, the streets for Kids Program is a program of the GDCI, and it’s a multi-year grant program that aims to kind of put a spotlight on children and caregivers’ needs. And as one part of this program, our team developed an award-winning design guide called Designing Streets for Kids and I was part of the core team kind of drafting and providing some design solutions.

We also last year delivered training, so it was all online. Unfortunately, we couldn’t travel much because of all the pandemic and challenges to 12 different cities around the world. And I’m especially proud that Tulsa, Oklahoma was one of the cities and it was really great that you know, I could still be connected to amazing folks in the Tulsa planning community. Kind of pushing the needle for sustainable streets for different mobility options. And we’re also providing technical assistance to various cities around the world to implement some of the kids focused street design transformations.

K: Thank you so much. That’s really great. So, can you tell me about one of your favorite projects?

Streets around Gjon Buzuku school in Tirana, Albania were transformed into a safe and playful environment

S: So, I think my favorite one is the most recent one. We just finished helping project implementation in Tirana, Albania, that transformed three blocks around a school and really made streets safer provided safe crossings, new play spaces, they added a lot of new trees and greenery and lighting. And that school is attended by over 1000 students.

But I think what really makes it project stand out is now the city and the municipality of Tirana is putting additional funding to make this project more permanent because our first intervention was more kind of a tactical urbanism, temporary project. And now they’re looking at ways to go into capital construction, and really kind of build some of the sidewalk extensions with more road safety features. So, it’s definitely very exciting and kind of unique to my role that I can see these results very quickly in this project.

K: Thank you, your work is having a great impact, like an international impact as well in like all these different locations, that’s really cool. Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to share today?

S: Well, I just want to thank the Gibbs College just for staying in touch with alumni for emails, newsletters, updates, and you know, like I’ve been watching from far away, but receiving all the newsletters, and its very kind of inspiring to see the growth and also the evolution of the programs that it’s you know, it’s not stagnant. It’s actually evolving and changing. And I can see a lot of student involvement. So, it’s really nice. I don’t know if every school does it, but definitely I can see a lot of effort that goes into it. Yeah, thank you for this specifically, for this opportunity as well.

K: Yes, of course. Thank you so much for meeting with me. It was really great to get to hear about all of your work with the streets for Kids program. Thank you.

S: Yeah, thank you, Kali.

K: Thanks again for listening to the Gibbs Spotlight. Tune in next time to hear more stories from the Gibbs College of Architecture.