In early May 2015, I completed a four-year mission to earn my Master’s degree in Urban Planning from Virginia Commonwealth University. I didn’t do it alone. I had help from my wife, Trish, and my children, Mitchell and Carly.
They allowed me the time to get his work done. I skipped some family events. Stayed home or on campus when I could have been doing more as a father. Believe me, I didn’t miss much. I’m a very involved parent. I still volunteered as a coach, scout assistant and whatever else was needed. I just didn’t do 100 percent of what I could have done. They managed without me. I also had help from friends and volunteers. Without their help, I would not have begun the journey.
The inspiration I’ve gained over the past decade, watching people volunteer their time to make Richmond’s outdoors a better place to work, play and relax pushed me to become more than just a volunteer. I wanted to become a part of the solution too, but one with the tools and the knowledge to take concerns and great ideas and turn them into plans and projects that help enhance our region.
I’ve got the passion. I’ve always had that. Having passion isn’t required for a good planner, but it can certainly help. I’ve had hundreds of conversations about how my writing and interview skills will be extremely useful as a planner. I work quickly, I’m focused, I can juggle multiple tasks and I can work well individually or as a team. I’ve done all of that for 20 years in my media jobs and I certainly had to do that for the past four years in my urban planning program.
What did I learn? Plenty more than I expected. More than anything, I learned that I could take on a ton of graduate school work and finish the course load of work for that program while still holding a full time job and maintain a great family life. It was like working two jobs for four years. I’m glad it is over and I’m ready for the next step.
My final project for my master’s program was to plan a recreational plan for the James River & Kanawha Canal. I’m calling it a blueway [see a Prezi on the plan]. This project is something I have been passionate about for several years. I could have done other projects that might have been more meaningful or better for my career shift, but I chose something that was simple, cost-effective, easy to implement and useful. There are many people I’ve spoke to over the years who have wanted something to be done to grant access to the canal and hopefully this will be the plan that delivers.
From grad school, I gained great experience with planning, public speaking, presentations, market studies, historical research, design and more from the program. Beyond the core classes, I also studied GIS, landscape and graphic design. I also included two courses in nonprofit management and fundraising.
I also learned that I don’t have to have a planning job to use my skills. I plan to continue using what I learned to help me as a volunteer. I’ll go back to the Friends of James River Park, James River Outdoor Coalition, rvaMORE, the Richmond Community ToolBank and more to help them more often. They are the groups who inspired me most. Still do.
Thank you to everyone who encouraged and helped me along the way. I hope to repay you all in the years to come. See you outside!