ASU planning grad seeks to impact local communities and amplify voices of Black planners

As a Phoenix-area native, Kendra Ellner has seen the Valley’s urbanization change before her eyes. Now, as a spring 2021 graduate from Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning Master's in Urban and Environmental Planning program, she seeks to use her education to influence it further and be an advocate for more inclusivity within the planning profession. 

“I was born and raised here, and just seeing how things changed dramatically over time was very fascinating to me,” said Ellner, who also earned her Bachelor of Science degree in urban planning from ASU in the spring 2020 as part of the school’s accelerated (4+1) degree program. “I just love my surroundings. I want to be a facilitator and have the community and I work together on aspects to invigorate spaces and make them better.” 

As part of this work, Ellner says it's especially important to have a just and equitable environment. One of the existing critiques of the urban planning field is the overt imbalance between the demographics of American urban planners with the demographics of the communities they serve. Ellner is a vocal advocate for getting more diverse voices, especially Black planners, involved in the field. 

“We're very underrepresented in a lot of spaces and a lot of professions,” Ellner said. “The Black community has been oppressed and systemically segregated from other communities from redlining to Euclidean zoning and many other factors that have prevented us from getting the same opportunities as our white counterparts. I feel like as Black planners we can change that, and we want to feel heard and represented and supported in our roles as well.”

In the fall of 2020, as part of an internship, Ellner wrote and published a standards and procedures report outlining ways in which Black planners can be supported in their profession and in the communities they serve. 

“The findings came down to: We need to be in positions of power, we need to lift up the younger generation of planners, and we really need to be there for each other and listen,” Ellner said, who interviewed senior practicing Black planning professionals across the country as part of the development of her report. “I hope it's utilized for motivating and influencing Black planners and other people of color to realize they have the potential to be who they want to be, change their environment and change the situations that have systematically oppressed us.

“These are huge things; I just hope this report has been the foundation for a step in the right direction.” 

During her time at ASU, Ellner has committed herself to her community and has been a driving force within ASU’s Student Planning Association, serving on the organization's leadership team in charge of its digital presence. The organization was recently recognized as one of the top student planning organizations in the nation

“It’s been a pleasure to watch Kendra grow her skills as a planner while aligning her passions with her career aspirations,” said Meagan Ehlenz, assistant professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “I also really appreciate Kendra’s ability to build up her community, whether that’s her classmates in a group project or our planning students through her work in the Student Planning Association. Her passion, collegiality and creativity are true strengths, and I’m excited to see how that translates into her planning career.”

After graduation Ellner will be completing a planning internship with the city of Apache Junction and says she looks forward to building her urban planning career in Arizona or out of state. 

“I’m very grateful for the opportunities I have received while being at ASU,” Ellner said. “To all the wonderful people I have met and learned from along this journey, I want to say thank you.” 

We asked Ellner a few questions about her time at ASU:

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: This might seem like an obvious trait but in all honesty, I learned that networking is imperative to be successful. At first, I was going through the motions of only focusing on academics, but once I began putting myself out there so many opportunities were knocking at my door.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I started my college career at Scottsdale Community College. It was offered to me an effortless university transfer path to my preferred degree program, and I knew right away I made the right choice because I began to feel as though I was getting the true college experience. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: There are so many great professors I have had at ASU. Overall though, I think the professors that taught me the most important lessons were Deirdre Pfeiffer and Meagan Ehlenz. 

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school?

A: My advice for those still in school is to make the most of it and be adaptable. Especially if this next fall semester will be back to in-person, I would highly recommend getting involved, taking advantage of as many opportunities as you can, put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to try new things!

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus is Coor Hall.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: This was a hard decision, but if I received 40 million dollars to solve one problem on our planet it would be to end child hunger.