Sarah Wieder


What is your current job and how did your planning degree prepare you for it?

I currently work for the City of Aurora, Colorado as a Planner in their Planning & Development Services Department and have had this position since graduation from UIUC. Aurora is located just east of Denver and is the 54th largest city in the country, with a population of 355,000 people and growing each year. I have the opportunity to work on a variety of projects on a daily basis, both in current and future planning. I am a Case Manager on many development projects within the city, from transit-oriented, mixed-use development along the city’s new light rail line to the redevelopment of older commercial shopping centers to adaptive reuse of former industrial buildings to master-planned developments on vacant land of over 1,000 acres. I get to work with a number of different neighborhood organizations and community groups and frequently make presentations about projects in front of the Planning Commission and City Council. My department is also completely overhauling both our zoning code and comprehensive plan, so I am very involved in the updates to those documents and the public process associated with those.

The BAUP program helped prepare me for my current job through the variety of courses offered by the department, including courses in urban design, data analysis, GIS, local government, policy and more. My planning education also helped me obtain three great internships. I had a full year internship my senior year with the City of Champaign Planning & Development Department, as well as two summer internships - one with Ralph Eglin Wafer Architecture & Planning, and one with the City of Chesterfield, Missouri. These internships provided me with invaluable experience and gave me the opportunity to use my planning education in the real world.

Why did you choose to study urban planning?

I actually began college as an Architecture major and to be honest, I hadn't even heard of urban planning. That all changed when I was signing up for classes at the end of first semester my freshman year - I came across UP 101 and it immediately caught my attention. Within a month of taking UP 101, I was convinced that I wanted to pursue a career in urban planning, so I switched majors and have never looked back! I love that you truly get to influence people’s lives in a positive manner and have a real impact on the community you’re working in. Urban planning is all around us, no matter whether you live in a small rural town or a large city, and it’s very fascinating to be a part of that process.

What advice would you share with someone who is considering a career in urban planning?

Planning is a very versatile career and there are so many different paths it can lead you following graduation. The skill set that you acquire with an urban planning background, from working in teams to writing in-depth reports to making presentations, is invaluable in any job you may have in the future. Whether you are interested in real estate, geography, design, transportation, finance, social equity, etc., urban planning can set the foundation for careers in those fields. The best advice I could share with someone who is considering this career is to travel and explore different places and cities. Look at the different types of people you see, look at the architecture, look at how people are interacting with each other, look at how people are moving around; think about how safe you feel and whether you enjoy being in that particular environment and how you could make it better. When it comes down to it, urban planning is all about people and by putting yourself in unfamiliar situations, you get new ideas that can transfer to any type of job or career you may have in the future.

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