GCA communications intern, Haley Sandell (H), sat down with Regional & City Planning graduate student, Daisy Muñoz (D) to discuss her journey and how it led her to Gibbs!

H: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

D: Yes, I was born in Chicago, Illinois, and I moved to Oklahoma when I was 6 years old. Due to the outreach OU has, I decided to come to OU after living in OKC for a while. I got my bachelor’s in English writing and now I’m working on my masters for regional city planning.

H: How did you go from writing to city planning?

D: I’ve always known that I have wanted to get my masters to continue into higher education. I was very unsure of what to major in for my undergrad degree. After a lot of consideration, I decided on English writing. I have always loved writing. I have so many diaries and journals from when I was little just filled with pages of my writing. I thought of it as an opportunity to improve my skills in writing. My mentor connected me to another mentor in city planning, so that’s how I found out about city planning.

H: Wow that’s a whole web!

D: I know, I can attribute that to a program that connects you, starting high school, up into higher education. I started with Upward bound in high school and OCCC. They help with scholarships, financial resources, and opportunities. They provide you with a mentor, and not only did I have access to all of these resources, but they also gave us a stipend every month. Then I decided to go to OU, and I joined a program similar here. They provide free tutoring, advisors, and a warm environment to be involved in. Then I found a similar program that helps prep you for a graduate degree by picking a research program, a mentor, and presenting the project. The next step is to start applying to Master and Ph.D. programs.

H: You’ve had quite the experience.

D: For anyone who has been in these programs, they really do work. They provide you with everything you need to be successful. Networking is what will help us create community within each other. In college and out of college. By bringing us all together and bringing us together to help each other.

H: It’s all about networking and it seems it has helped you be able to find people who are willing to help. What current projects are you working on?

D: The last project that I worked on was with my advisor and professor. It was about discrimination towards COVID-19. We went through city, state, and health department websites to see if they said anything about condemning discrimination towards communities that currently had cases of COVID-19. It was interesting to see which ones had stepped up to make a statement about the issue. It was interesting to me because we are all living through it now, so it made me feel important. I liked working through that project and to see the end results.

Image credit: Daisy Muñoz

H: People don’t really think about the stigma and gap between how everyone is handling it differently on a city-wide scale.

D: I think it’s interesting to look at how it is affecting the lower, middle, and upper class in different ways. For example, some people are able to work from home and others are not able to work from home. Some cities are getting hit by COVID-19 and don’t have the resources to be able to fight it. It has been very interesting.

H: Hopefully this is an experience that only happens once in a lifetime. You are definitely making a big difference during all of this right now.

D: I was able to see how COVID-19 highlighted these problems even more so it can bring more attention to them which has caused a lot of reaction to the problems. I think people are more ready now to have these conversations and to help do more.

H: It is definitely a wakeup call. What is a project that you have worked on at Gibbs that you are most proud of?

D: For a class, I had to do research about lack of access to green spaces on the south side of OKC. With the Geographic Information System (GIS), we were able to look at the maps and highlight the different components that were causing the lack of access to the green space. We looked at the past economic areas. From there, I moved to the lack of green space. I tied it to how, when schools close, this can cause that issue. By taking those closed-down schools and turning them into parks, it would help the community to be able to have better health.

H: Someone here talked about how we should make more spaces productive instead of having empty buildings.

D: Those spaces are vital to the community. When a school is closed it affects the whole community. That’s why bringing in parks is a good solution because they are low in cost and benefit everyone.

H: What is your favorite part about the Gibbs?

D: I love the professors. They have a lot of patience and offer a lot of support to us. They really do care about what we do after we graduate. I was able to go on a field trip that took us to OKC to see and visit a lot of different agencies to talk to them and learn more about them. They put in a lot of effort to make sure we succeed.

H: It sounds like they put in a lot of effort to make sure you have the resources and help you need. When and why did you first become interested in Regional & City Planning?

D: I heard of it during my senior year of high school. Someone came to my school and talked about what it entailed. They showed how my district is one of the last to see improvements and I wondered why it was. She explained that downtown attracts tourists which brings in money for the city. After that, I started to notice the differences in the neighborhoods in OKC. It started opening my eyes to what was around me. I learned that you could do a lot of social justice change with city planning. I wanted to implicit those changes that I wanted to see done when I was in high school. It is a good way for me to be able to give back to my community.

Image credit: Daisy Muñoz, presenting

H: I really love that answer. I love how you knew you wanted to do it when you were in high school and you will now be able to make those changes.

D: I have great people behind me to help encourage me to try my best and do it because I really do care about what I want to do.

H: You are setting out to make a difference. What advice would you give prospective students of the RCPL program and what tips would you share for their success?

D: Don’t be afraid, especially of a master’s program. Apply for it and go through it. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your professors, they were able to help me with so many things. My main advice is to not be afraid to reach out to them and let them know when you are going through a hardship, need help, or getting an internship. My mentor, Dr. Lee, has helped me a lot. For tips, I would say don’t be afraid to speak your opinion in class. At the end of the day, if you are trying your best, it is important to speak from your own perspective. It can help others learn around you as well. We learn from each other and our professors. We are working on creating a better world.

H: It comes back to remembering that you are never alone. The professors are there to help you every step of the way.

D: Yes, they really are. The alumni are very helpful too. They are always willing to help with whatever you need. I have a meeting, too, with an alum next week and they are going to help me with figuring some things out. That is part of not being afraid to ask for help because no one knows everything, so you have to ask for help at some point. The more knowledge you have the better prepared you are to take on these responsibilities in the future.

H: That was a great answer for prospective students.

D: I walked in not knowing very much, but after this year I have had the courage to learn how to change that.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.