Into the world

Community Design graduates are in demand

- May 23, 2007

Erica Chisholm-Keith found a job as a planner right out of the program. (Pearce photo)

When Jessica Wagner went looking for a major after her first year, she chanced upon the Bachelor of Community Design in DalhousieÕs Admissions Handbook. She couldnÕt imagine a program better suited to her interests.

ÒWow, I had no idea that it even existed at Dal,” says Ms. Wagner, who graduates Wednesday, May 23 with a Bachelor of Community Design.

ThatÕs because the program is still pretty new. The 22-year-old from Orono, Maine is among the first honours students to graduate from the unique program, created in the fall of 2003.

For Ms. Wagner, the appeal is an academic program which has practical applications. ItÕs one of a handful of undergraduate programs across the country recognized by the Canadian Institute of Planners and graduates are finding jobs Ñ in city planning departments, community development offices, real estate and advocacy organizations.

"You won't get lost in the shuffle, ever"

Just out of DalÕs Community Design program, Erica Chisholm-Keith has nailed a job as an environmental planner with a local consulting firm, CEF Consultants of Halifax. She says the programÕs strength is its small size, the personal attention lavished on students by professors and the electives available to tailor your degree.

ÒYou have to work independently, but you wonÕt get lost in the shuffle, ever,” says Ms. Chisholm-Keith, who focused on environmental planning. ÒYou canÕt do stuff like write a paper at the last minute Ñ the professors wonÕt let you get away with that. There are no shortcuts, no bulls---. But youÕll learn so much.”

ÒWeÕre coming into the field when development is booming,” she says. ÒIÕm confident IÕll be able to get a job very soonÉ I was able to get real direction as to what I want to do. And I must say, that makes my parents happy too.”

The program was created when two small planning schools at NSCAD U and Dal were combined into a slightly larger department at Dalhousie, explains Jill Grant, Director of DalhousieÕs School of Planning.

ÒWe couldnÕt have picked a better time (to launch the program). The job prospects for students have never been as good as they are right now,” she says.

With low interest rates, more and more people are getting into the housing market. At the same time, Canadians are increasingly concerned about the environment and wondering how lifestyle impacts on the planet. Issues such as sustainable transportation and healthy communities are at the top of the public agenda, and effective planning is more important than ever.

Over the three or four years of the program, students study subjects including physical geography, architecture, environmental studies, economics and landscape ecology. In core classes, there is an emphasis on design as a way of learning, analyzing and addressing problems; theoretical problem solving is balanced with real-life, community-based projects that get students out of the classroom and into communities Ñ ÒWe focus on the metro area as a laboratory of study,” says Dr. Grant.

Students can also choose to study abroad Ñ Ms. Wagner, for example, studied landscape architecture for a semester at the University of Canberra in Australia. And, in their fourth year, honours students complete a major group project for a real client and a 12-week internship.

Adrian Buckley says four years of education really started to click when he was working on his fourth-year honours project Ñ an environmental analysis of a watershed area and potential recreational site for the County of Antigonish.

ÒI felt I learned more from that course than any other,” says the 27-year-old Cape Bretoner, whoÕll be job hunting as he cycles across the country this summer. ÒIÕd say even my writing ability increased exponentially.”


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