As the only public college in New England to offer a bachelor’s degree in regional planning, Westfield State has a solid history of educating and training successful planners that dates back to 1983. Key in this work by the Geography and Regional Planning Program—known as GARP—is the University’s connection to Tim Brennan, the executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC).
A former Westfield State professor, Brennan was instrumental in the formation of GARP and has been an advocate for students for many years in his current role. Brennan says that each semester, PVPC offers guest speakers in classrooms, project reviews, and collaboration on projects. “Interns provide a way for the PVPC to expand its capabilities by bringing in some talent, while the students gain experience in the field, which helps them gain future employment,” Brennan says. “In the summer, we regularly hire interns who have proven themselves as capable.”
“We’re very fortunate to have Tim’s involvement,” says Robert Bristow, Ph.D., chair of GARP, noting that Brennan received an honorary degree from the University in 2015 for his leadership.
Through internships, specialized upper-level courses, and other projects, Dr. Bristow says students are also able to gain hands-on experience to supplement their education. For example, as part of a Site Planning Studio course, students are conducting an environmental assessment of properties owned by the University and its Foundation between Route 20 and Ely Campus Center and University Hall. Dr. Bristow says the assessment involves looking at the physical, geological, and human aspects of the properties for potential use and development.
Chicopee resident Nathan Moreau ’18 is a regional planning major interning at Chicopee City Hall. As part of a class project, he studied the Chicopee Fire Department’s response times and will discuss results with Chicopee Mayor Richard Kos. “Nathan is getting first-hand experience to solve a real problem faced by a local community,” says Dr. Bristow.
The strength of the GARP program and the innovative projects students are able to take part in make Westfield State alumni attractive to employers. Roughly two to three Westfield State students have interned annually at PVPC, and many have found permanent employment there, including Ashley Eaton ’13, an environment and land use planner; Joshua Garcia ’09, municipal services/manager; Andrew McCaul ’02, senior transportation planner; John O’Leary ’11, community development planner; Louise Sullivan ’83, administrative assistant; and Todd Zukowski ’87, GPS/cartographic section manager.
“Our students are well trained and educated for an entry-level career in urban and environmental planning or for graduate school,” Dr. Bristow says.