GCA Communications intern, Haley Sandell (H) recently spoke with Jessica Langsdon (J), a Regional & City Planning (RCPL) graduate student! Jessica shares information about her journey to OU and the RCPL program with us and talks about her recent projects and accomplishments!
H: Hey, Jessica.
J: Hi, Haley, how are you?
H: Not too bad. How’s it going?
J: I’m doing well. I’m excited to be recording with you.
H: Well, thank you for joining us. So where are you from? And how did you decide to come to OU?
J: Yeah, so I’m originally from Bartow, Florida. I was born and raised there, but I did go to Butler University for my undergrad which is in Indiana, so I’ve kind of lived all over. For OU, I really knew I wanted to do planning, and I looked at several programs across the country. Location really wasn’t a big thing. I left it wide open. And I ended up narrowing it down to two places. OU and George Washington in Washington DC. And in the end, I really just, I come from a smaller town. And I really love like the small town-ish vibe of Norman. And I didn’t really want to be in the hustle and bustle of crazy DC. In addition, during my undergrad, I went to a very small school, so I was excited to come to a big state school and see everything they have to offer.
H: Yeah, definitely. And those are polar opposites going OU in Oklahoma or Washington DC.
J: Yeah. A lot of people thought I was crazy and should go to DC. And I was like, no, I really like Norman. I like OU. I’m very happy with my choice.
H: Yeah, Norman’s a great town to especially for college life. It’s perfect.
J: Yeah, I feel like you get the best of both worlds. You have Norman, and you’re not too far away from Oklahoma City, which is about as big as I like to be. I love visiting big cities. I just don’t really want to live in them.
H: Yeah, I agree. I mean, I grew up in Oklahoma City. And that’s like, that’s about peak city for me. So what current projects are you working on?
J: For the program right now? Nothing. Yet, I should say. Ideally, I would have liked to have gotten an internship in a planning field this summer. But unfortunately, with COVID-19 there are basically just no opportunities; it’s very hard to train an intern probably working from home so, not ideal. But later in the summer, I plan to get a head start on making my portfolio for the program. It’s one of our graduation requirements. I’m trying to get everything at least started so I don’t have to deal with it, I guess, when I’m in the middle of classes and tests and projects, that kind of thing.
H: Yeah, definitely. And finishing off your portfolio is so important.
J: Yeah, it’s pretty extensive. I mean, it’s it covers, you know, the whole two years and you have to do a summary of every class you’ve taken and I think you have to pretty much submit all of your work or like your top 10 favorites.
H: That’s a lot. Yeah, it looks pretty time-consuming.
J: Yeah. worth it, though.
H: So, what can you tell us about your physical planning specialization? And what does that entail?
J: Yeah, so in the RCPL program, you have the choice to specialize in two areas. One is the Community and Economic Development, and the other one is Physical Planning. Each really has three mandatory classes you have to take for that specialization, and then you have to take one class in the other one, so you’re exposed to everything. So physical planning is a lot more design and function-focused whereas, in community development, you’re looking at a lot of more social programs, and trying to help from the social aspect of the planning program.
H: Gotcha. Cool. So, and then, what about Environmental Planning, off of that?
J: Yeah, so within physical planning, the three required classes, one of them is Environmental Planning. The other one is Site Planning, and then the last one is Infrastructure Planning. And so, I’ve taken Environmental Planning, and it was really interesting. You’re exposed to all of the new stormwater management techniques if you ever heard of low impact development or green infrastructure, and going green, that kind of thing. We learn about EPA regulations, Brownfield programs, which Oklahoma, I believe, has the top programs in the nation, which brownfields (if you don’t know) are like oilfield recovery. So when we’re done with drilling oil and we want to make the land back to something else, there’s a whole program that you have to follow to then build a restaurant on that land if you want to or build a neighborhood. Basically, it’s a process to clean the land and get it back to where it used to be.
H: Yeah, yeah. Because drilling for oil is not a clean process.
J: No, no, so yeah, we learned all about that, which was kind of technical but really interesting because a lot of the green infrastructure and low impact development that is starting to take hold, kind of nationwide, it’s getting more and more popular to do.
H: Good. Yeah. I mean, now is the time to really focus on cutting back and taking care of our Earth.
J: Yeah, for sure. We need to.
H: Yeah. So, let’s see. What what’s the project that you’ve created or worked on GCA that you’re most proud of?
J: I have to say it was a project we had to do for my GIS class. It was GIS for land use planning, which if you’re not familiar with the program ArcGIS, it’s a mapping software, essentially. And throughout the whole semester, every two weeks, we had an assignment due that was a map of some sort, and we had to pick a theme for a project. And at the end of the semester, all of those maps, we had to compile into this huge presentation poster. I think it was like three feet by four feet high. It was like it was like bigger than me. For my project, I chose to analyze park distribution in Norman and in order to determine if there were any areas within the city that lacked ark access. There’s this kind of a movement right now called the 10-minute park walk, that everybody should live within 10 minutes of a park. So that kind of started it, and we learned all kinds of stuff to do with the GIS program; we could pull in census data, so I had census data overlaid onto a map. I could see poverty levels or race in correlation to like where the parks were. So, in the end, it was really interesting because it did show there was a little bit of disparity between park access and park amenities and tended to be lower in those lower-income areas within the city. So, in one of the final maps, I identified potential areas where Norman could go at a park to allow people in that area better access or quicker access to a park.
H: Yeah. Well, and not only is that a cool architectural study, but it’s a cool social study, too.
J: Yeah, it was, it was really interesting, especially when you start looking at the census data and everything that you can overlay on the map, and you’re like, oh, okay, this area is very high poverty, and they only have one park within, you know, this whole neighborhood, whereas maybe the more affluent areas, have multiple parks. You don’t really realize that until you overlay all the data.
H: Yeah, that’s, that’s really cool. City Planning is an interesting time; it’s like a big puzzle.
J: Yeah, it definitely is. There’s always a problem to solve. And I’d say there’s definitely, I mean, there’s always more than one solution to the problem. Just depending on where you live.
H: That’s really cool. So, what’s your favorite thing about GCA?
J: I really like the small size of my program. And my class size, I think in total, for first years and second years, I think we’re like under 30 people. They tend to range, but I had one class this semester that only had 11 people in it. So, you really get like, almost, I mean, it feels like one on one attention from the professor or with your classmates. I feel like it really fosters a lot of communication and dialogue, and people tend to ask really good questions when you’re in that smaller setting.
H: Yeah, definitely. And so like, since it’s such a small program, do you end up going into the field and working with like kind of the same people later in life?
J: That’s a good question. I think if you stay local, in Oklahoma, you definitely will. At least our program, they really call on the alumni a lot to come back and speak to us and tell us what they’re doing now or where they’re at, and they’re kind of all over. Last semester, we had one person from Moore; he works for the city of Moore, who’s a planner, he’s an alumnus. We have several people up in Oklahoma City’s Planning Department, and I think we had one from ADA Oklahoma, and he was also alumni. So, I think definitely, if you stay local with Oklahoma, you could potentially run into some of your classmates in the future. Yeah, and especially probably at conferences as well. The planning, I’m sure architecture as well, but they have several conferences all year round. And so, you never know who you might run into at one of those.
H: Gotcha. So ideally, where would you want to end up? Like, do you want to stay in Oklahoma or venture out?
J: Yeah, I would say too early. Um, I always say that Oklahoma’s growing on me. I moved to this state for grad school, so it’s been an experience, but I wouldn’t I don’t think I would only look in Oklahoma. I think I would look all over.
H: Gotcha. Yeah, Oklahoma is funny that way. You come here you don’t expect much, but honestly, it’s not too bad.
J: Yeah, no, I really like it so far.
H: So, when or why did you first become interested in Regional and City Planning and Physical Planning?
J: So, I always make the joke. My mom pointed it out, when I was a kid, I was obsessed with the game SimCity; I would play it all the time. And I never really knew why, like, I just enjoy the game. And it was my mom pointed it out when I finally went back to grad school and enrolled in this program, she’s like, oh, maybe that’s why you played that game so much. But I think I’ve traveled a lot or a fair amount. And whenever I go into new cities, I’m just really curious about how they’re laid out, how will they work, and how they could be better to fit the people that live in them. And that really just kind of drew me to city planning. I will say that in high school and in my undergrad, I had never even heard of a city planner. before. So they’re really starting to get a little bit more popular, I’d say, at least some people have heard of them before, but most people in the public when you’re like, oh, I’m a city planner, they have no idea what it entails. So, I think by going into this program that one like, we need to, like better educate the public, so people are more aware of what we do and what we can do. But yeah, I just really want to help cities be better for the people that live there.
H: Yeah, definitely. And I think it’s really cool. It’s like real life foreshadowing: you playing the Sims and then later becoming a regional city planner.
J: Yeah. It’s pretty funny.
H: So, what is something that you would want to tell prospective students about the program?
J: Yeah, I think I kind of came up with two things, I’d say, you know, my first semester was definitely the most challenging; the first semester of grad school, you don’t really know what to expect. How is it going to be different from undergrad? You know, how time-consuming is it going to be? So, I think my advice is like, once you get past that first semester, it’s really just downhill from there. Like you got to develop critical time management skills, and you learn what to spend time on and what not to spend time on. You know, you might not need to read all 100 pages of something. And you really learn how to skim read a lot faster and devote your attention to projects that really need it right now and you know, when to kind of put things on the back burner. And then I think the second thing I would say is, if you have an opportunity, they come every once in a while, but you can take electives like outside of our program sometimes.
J: So, for me, I was able to enroll in a landscape architecture class called Sustainable Cities. And it was actually a study abroad class over the summer. It was only for three weeks, but we went to the Netherlands we went to France and Germany. Yeah, it was amazing. We saw all of the architecture, all of the ways they were using sustainable approaches in Europe. Through that, you know, I was exposed to, one, a different major through the landscape architecture, and I was just exposed to a lot more students. We had theater students in this class, we had a lot of architecture students. I think we had a Nuclear Physicists or something, she was in something very science technical. So, you got to learn like what everybody else is studying, so that was really interesting. And then also our program, if you can swing it, I’m not going to be able to do it, but every other summer, RCPL actually goes to Uganda for a few weeks, and it’s part of their capstone studio. Everybody who I’ve spoken to who has gone really enjoyed it. Plus, you knock out it’s like a whole you basically knock out five credit hours in a month. It’s very intensive like when you get over there, hours are a little crazy, but it frees up your whole like last year of grad school because you don’t have to take studio; that is your studio credit.
H: And what a resume opportunity!
J: Yeah, yeah. It’s a cool program, I believe they go over there. And they work with women in different villages. And they’re trying to its more from the Social Planning perspective. But they’re trying to get the voices of the women there and how they can help and how they can maybe use city planning to help them develop a plan for their future.
H: That’s really awesome. I mean, not only are you gaining college credit, but you’re gaining, like, personal development, and you’re making a difference somewhere.
J: Sure, sure. Yeah. It’s probably life-changing for some people. Definitely.
H: Well, that’s really cool. Oh, well, I think that is all I have for you today. Do you have anything else that you’d like to add?
J: No, I don’t think so. Hopefully, I let people know a little bit about the program and maybe we’ll get some new recruits because of it.
H: Yeah, definitely. I think I’ve talked to three or four RCPL students so far and honestly, I have looked into it; you all are really selling this program.
J: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. I mean, it’s very applicable. No matter where you live, you need a city planner. I feel like you’re always going to have a job. Because you’re always needed. You can really kind of pick the niche you want to go into like, you don’t have to just be physical or you don’t have to be social. There are definitely opportunities out there to do either or, or a combination. You can go work for a nonprofit like it’s, it’s unlimited.
H: Yeah, there are a lot of different opportunities. Thank you for talking with us today, Jessica.
Editor’s note: This interview had been edited and condensed for clarity.