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Karen Guillén-Chapman
Karen Guillén-Chapman


Graduation Year: 2016


Why did you choose to pursue a graduate education in planning at Portland State University?

Places, people, and the systems that connect us as communities have always fascinated me—planning seemed like the most relevant area of study to explore these topics. I'm from a small country in Central America that has undergone a lot of development and infrastructure growth over the past two decades, focusing on more environmentally sustainable systems and community and cultural assets. Costa Rica is a fascinating place where both innovation and cultural tradition dominate development patterns across the country—but huge socioeconomic disparities exist and much like the US, these disparities are racial/ethnic and geographically segregated.

What aspects of planning do you like best? Or, what is your favorite part about being a planner? 

Working alongside communities on solutions for their own communities. There's so much passion, creativity, and innovation happening at the grass roots level.

What planning subarea (or class topic) most interests you?

Equity and advocacy planning, in a variety of specializations, from housing and the public realm to parks, green spaces and sustainability. In so much of the world, our race/ethnicity have dictated which neighborhoods your family could reside in, sometimes for generations, and in turn your zip code or neighborhood can dictate what opportunities are available to you. I am fascinated by aspects of the origins and history of planning in the US. From Florence Kelley and Mary K. Simkhovitch, settlementhousing activists, and New York's Committee on Congestion of Population in NYC in the early 20th century, to Paul Davidoff's and Norm Krumholtz's work on advocacy and equity planning midcentury and later. I think seeing a bit more diversity in our profession in the 21st century is bringing these values and principals back into our planning practice through a renewed racial equity and social justice lens. This is what I find most exciting— what today's planners are contributing to this body of work. And I feel fortunate to be able to contribute in some small way to this work. We still have a long ways to go!

What advice would you offer someone considering a master’s degree in planning? 

There's so much opportunity within the broad umbrella of the planning profession, find what you are most passionate about and mold your planning academia and career around these interest(s). 

What have you done since obtaining your degree, including both professional and civic engagement?

Oh wow, it's been a surprising and unpredictable journey for me since graduating (personally and professionally). My work has been focused on municipal planning and community development work, including parks and green spaces, current planning and long range planning. I have always been very engaged with my local community, and there are so many exciting things happening in my community around place making and the built environment, centering racial equity and social just. Then I became a parent a couple years after graduating! After pursuing the adoption of our two boys, a preschooler and a new born baby, these days just trying to get enough sleep, rest and family time after work is a real challenge! (I'm looking forward to some day soon being more civically engaged again, and involving my family in my civic engagement ;-) 

What impact did the PPDA have on your ability to enter graduate school/obtain your MURP degree at PSU? 

It made it possible for me to pursue and complete my degree without crippling stress over debt and housing costs (the relief of tuition assistance was huge). 

What connections and experience did you gain from your PPDA? 

Through the PPDA the MURP program is becoming more diverse and gave us [students] the opportunity to organize CUPA's Graduate Students of Color group. This gave me a stronger community with professors and the student body; it made it a more rewarding and inclusive experience.