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The spotlight series introduces some of our undergraduate students who are majoring in geography, GIS or urban planning. Nokwanda entered ASU as an undergraduate majoring in urban planning, and is now pursuing a Masters of Urban and Environmental Planning through the accelerated 4 + 1 program.
Q: How did you decide to study urban planning?
What initially attracted me to urban planning was that I could apply a logical way of problem solving to mend people-centered challenges.
I like challenges, so I am very open to working on large scale projects. I am from a large city, the city of Johannesburg and so I think growing up there influenced how I think about urban planning and how I think it is important. I saw a lot of issues that my city faced growing up. As a result I was convinced of the importance of planning, especially for improved infrastructure in my country.
Q: What influences have been important to you, as you’ve been working to become a planner?
I feel like I drew inspiration from inside. I grew up in a place where there was really not much to draw inspiration from. You would call it ghetto out here, or as we say township. Going through some challenges as a young person in my community is what gave me the inspiration to say, you know what, I want to change things. I want to make lives better in communities such as the one I was born and raised in. Even now that’s what I draw upon to stay motivated.
Q: What part of urban planning do you enjoy learning about the most?
I like the economic planning aspect of it. Last summer I did an internship with IBM in Africa called smarter planners and smarter cities and since then I have been quite intrigued by that. Just this morning actually I learned that in South Africa they are planning to build the first ‘smart city,’ and I have to see how I can be a part of that.
Q: What are the best three things about being a college student?
One is the freedom, the freedom to do what I want when I want. Two is meeting so many people. Three, this is my favorite one actually: I feel like in college so much is thrown at you, you find out what the world is and what the world is not. I like that intellectual awakening.
Q: What are your career goals in the short and the long term?
In the short term I plan on completing my masters next semester in urban planning. Then I want to work for a pretty large firm where I can apply what I’ve learned. I plan to get 3-5 years of experience and then I want to move back to South Africa, and apply my experience and academic training to see what planning methods fit the African context.
Long term, I plan to have a first of its kind (in South Africa) planning firm. I want to consolidate the infrastructure development process. I want to have a firm that has planners, architects, civil engineers and construction people so that I can offer development services for different projects whether it’s for civil agencies or it’s just for private businesses.
Q: What advice do you offer to other students who hope to become planners?
The first thing I would say is seek out the different opportunities the School of Geographical Sciences & Urban Planning offers, and look for extracurricular activities. Never underestimate who you are going to meet at the different events. Put yourself out there as much as possible. Also, as planners we gain unique skills that allow us the flexibility of working in different career paths. so I would say take advantage of this.
You have to network, and it has to be in two different ways. You have to network with the people who you are trying to represent as a planner and at the same time you have to network with the people who can help you realize what you want.
As student, relax! I take a lot of credits but you need to learn to balance between your personal life and your school work.