So I’ve decided to upload some of my articles from my time at Westfield News, as my internship there really helped me to develop skills as a journalist and imparted the ethics I need to withhold should I pursue such a career.
The following article was published on March 1, 2012, and was focused on Westfield State University’s Geographical and Regional Planning Department. I interviewed my good friend, Jonathan DiRodi, who was one of the students involved in the program, as well as a few of the professors who spearheaded it.
“GARP Department is University’s Best Kept Secret”
WESTFIELD- Ask anyone in Westfield State University’s Geography and Regional Planning Department what their planning for a career, chances are they will have an answer for you. Take WSU Senior Jonathan DiRodi, 21, for example. After deciding to join the major during his junior year, he already has a paid internship as a Security Analyst for the U. Mass Emergency Management Agency.
DiRodi began his college career as an Environmental Science major, studying meteorology and weather patterns. After becoming a Regional Planning major, he went on to apply his knowledge in areas that benefitted others. “I’ve always liked to make plans and seem them through,” DiRodi says, and he has found a way to make that talent work for him. And he is not the only one.
The GARP department has been a part of WSU for over 20 years, and focuses on both environmental and urban planning projects. One of the première goals of the program is to brainstorm and implement plans for communities that are less harmful and wasteful to the environment, while still being efficient.
WSU is unique in that it is the only public undergraduate college in New England to feature the program. Over the past 20 years, the department has proven lucrative for the interns and students that enroll in it. On average, 30 or so students graduate from this major per year, and with less competition in the field than other majors, they can often find jobs in urban areas.
“It’s not a very large program,” says Department Chair Robert Bristow, “but that helps with it being more hands-on and interactive for the students.” Classes in the major often focus on group projects that stretch for the entire semester, rather than individual class work.
Dr. Stephanie Kelly, another professor who is in charge of managing internships in the office, expressed much excitement with the role GARP plays in the students’ careers. “It gives you field and agency experience, and helps you set up networking. It teaches students certain ways to solve problems.”
It’s not just the students who benefit from the program. Of the eight professors in the department, four have taken part in the S.T.A.R.S program, which allows them to do research for a semester abroad. Currently, one professor is working in Guatemala, aiding in finding solutions for land usage. Professors can then apply the knowledge they’ve gained into their lesson plans and fields.
The fields of study within the program cover a wide area, including public transportation, economic development, and housing. It also deals with planning against natural disasters, such as the storm that hit New England in late October. Preventative measures are being taken to make sure the next storm is not as devastating.
But its not just immediate disasters that catch their attention. Locally, the department aids in various projects. According to Kelly, one such is helping Columbia Greenway build a bike path that runs through the town, and extends to Southwick and Easthampton. On campus, they are currently working on a tree inventory, identifying and grouping the various species of trees in the area.
In addition, they also make sure the new buildings on campus meet LEEP (Leading Environmental Energy Design) requirements, so that they are sustainable. Progressive ideas such as this ensure that WSU is thinking about the future, and always looking for new ways to improve themselves.
Both on campus and off, the GARP department are the unsung heroes of the city. Much of our everyday sustainability is due to their hard work, whether recognized or not. As DiRodi said in his closing statement, “wherever disaster strikes, I’ll be there to prevent it.” And we are all safer for it.