Master’s students at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Urban and Regional Planning (colloquially referred to as MUPs) spend their summers applying their knowledge in locations throughout the globe. Agora checked in with a few MUPs over the summer and asked them to share their experiences.


Second-year MUP Sophie Jantz interned as a community planner at the U.S. Department of Transportation Volpe Center in Cambridge, MA.

Sophie: My favorite part about this internship is that my responsibilities and assortment of projects change every week. So far this summer, I have interviewed recent Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program awardees on their amazing research and products, as well as assisted with the FAST Act UTC Grant Competition, which attracted 212 applications from American universities this past year. Other projects include assisting with Professional Capacity Building at the Volpe Center and helping out with the Exploratory Research Program.

Agora: What is the most important thing you learned in the planning program that has helped on the job?
S: This internship has been all about "diving in the deep end" of projects. My first week on the job I was already placed on a number of projects with various deadlines. The initial burst of activity was very overwhelming, but Volpe Center is a very busy place, so each day you have to work hard and ask a lot of questions. This sort of activity isn't too different from some of the projects I've worked on at Taubman College. One of the best ways to learn is to learn by doing, and many of my courses in the planning program have proven this.

Taubman graduate and former Agora Blog Editor Michelle Bennett visited Edinburgh, Scotland, this summer.

A: What is the most interesting thing you learned about Edinburgh?
Michelle: Due to its rich history and architecture, much of Edinburgh's Old Town and New Town are UNESCO-protected heritage sites.

A: What is Edinburgh's greatest weakness? or If you were a planner in there, what would be your first project? 
M: Edinburgh, like most cities, is suffering from a housing crisis. As a result, there are quite a few homeless people. If I were a planner, I'd like to help with responsible and equitable residential development planning. Also, while brick and cobblestone roads and sidewalks are charming, they are hard to maintain and not a friendly environment for disabled folks. I think there's need to be some work on rehabilitating the roads and making them ADA compliant.

Taubman graduate Drew Phillips spent his summer in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he traveled with other MUPs and Professor Larissa Larsen (photo, far right). 

A: What is the most interesting thing you learned about Addis Ababa?
Drew: I was surprised when kids would shout "China!" at me since they thought I was Chinese. This made sense later on when I learned that the Chinese government is heavily investing in Addis Ababa; some kids seem to be more aware of Chinese people than white people. One of the most visible results of the Chinese investment is the 17-mile long light rail system, the first of its type in Sub-Saharan Africa.

A: What is Addis Ababa's greatest challenge?
D: Like many other major cities in developing countries, Addis is polluted, crowded, and often dirty. A major issue is flooding, which affects almost all areas of life. Traffic builds up along flooded streets and runoff contributes to waterway pollution. Most importantly, the residents of informal settlements suffer from poor access to clean water and hygiene issues caused by open/nonexistent sewerage systems.

Second-year MUP Bithia Ratnasamy spent her summer as the Graduate Community Planning and Engagement Fellow at Atlanta BeltLine, Inc, a quasi-governmental entity.

A: What are some of your primary roles and responsibilities? 
Bithia: My primary responsibilities have been centered around the upfront work involved with planning community meetings and shaping internal and external discussions on the safety of all trail users — walkers, runners, pups, and cyclists alike.

A: What is your greatest hope for Atlanta?
B: Planning is in the spotlight in Atlanta right now. This summer, the newly appointed planning commissioner restructured the city's planning department and opened a new planning studio in Ponce City Market. Additionally, the zoning ordinance is being re-written, and an overlay is being created for the BeltLine planning area. My hope is that new policies and practices will be developed through equitable processes and will start to deconstruct the systems that have created and maintained racial segregation and consequential disparities.