News | Students Join APA LA Young Planner?s Inaugural Plates with Planners Event, Transportation Edition

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by By Lauren Mullarkey-Williams, USC,? BS PPD 2019, MS GIST 2020

On Thursday, September 16, Fehr & Peers, a transportation consulting firm located in Downtown Los Angeles, opened its doors to ten emerging planners selected by the Young Planners Group of the American Planning Association (APA) Los Angeles chapter. This event, named Plates with Planners, was the first of its kind and proved to be a successful way to connect students and recent grads with professionals in the transportation industry.

Two USC undergrads, two USC graduate students, and two USC alumni, all from the Price school, joined in the dinner party to hear from the two industry professionals invited to share their experiences and advice. James Santos, a Senior Project Manager at ESA, and Cheryl Croshere, a Transportation Planner at Fehr & Peers, led the discussion by sharing their professional journeys into the realm of transportation planning. Both speakers come from very different academic backgrounds and interests; however, the breadth of this industry allows for writers, anthologists, and just about any other professionals to find their niche within transportation.


Photo taken by Olivia Joncich of APA LA Young Planners


“The transportation planning field itself is quite broad,” shared Sarah Orcutt, a Senior Undergraduate Urban Studies and Planning major with an emphasis in Environmental Public Policy, “It takes experience and time working through various projects to truly find your niche as a planner.” Orcutt applied to attend the Plates with Planners event after receiving an email from a fellow APA student member. She first became interested in transportation after taking a Transportation Policy and Planning course her junior year of college and gaining experience through an internship with the Federal Highway Administration in both the environmental and planning departments.

“As a young planner about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree, this event offered a valuable opportunity to meet seasoned professionals and gain greater insight into a career in transportation,” she added.  Orcutt was particularly excited to hear from the two speakers as both have held successful careers in the private sector. “Listening to their experiences in private transportation consulting,” she noted, “provided a unique perspective on the industry that I have yet to experience working primarily with government agencies.” Orcutt also appreciated the opportunity to gain career advice and interact with professionals and other young planners without the stress of a formal networking event.

Having attended the event myself, I fully concur that the Plates with Planners event was an incredibly valuable opportunity to ask questions and build connections in a more casual setting. Both speakers provided very different but equally important insights into starting a career in transportation planning. For example, James Santos, having entered the industry shortly before the 2008 recession, noted that transportation is a powerful and resilient field, even in times of economic instability. Santos explained how, in times of crisis, the federal government often pushes funds towards transportation and infrastructure projects to create jobs. More transportation funding leads to a high demand for planners who can make such projects possible.

Overall, the Plates with Planners event allowed for fantastic dialogue between seasoned professionals and students interested in someday following in their footsteps. Providing a fun, relaxed dinner party atmosphere allowed for all students to ask questions directly related to their career goals and meet other young transportation planners alongside whom they will one day work. This was also a great way to introduce young and emerging planners to the opportunities offered by APA LA. Keep an eye out in our weekly newsletter for future ways to get involved with the local chapter and be sure to apply for the next transportation-focused event!