Urban & Regional Planning alumna Kayla Turner received 2018 Outstanding Senior Award

Kayla Turner, a recent urban and regional planning alumna, was awarded the 2018 Outstanding Senior Award by the MSU College of Social Science.

Image of Kayla Turner and URP Professor Mark Wilson with award certificate.
URP alumna Kayla Turner with URP professor and program director Mark Wilson.

Kayla Turner, a recent urban and regional planning alumna, was awarded the 2018 Outstanding Senior Award by the MSU College of Social Science.

This award recognizes outstanding achievements in the study of planning by students graduating from the Urban & Regional Planning program in the School of Planning, Design and Construction. Each department in the college chooses a deserving student from the graduating class for the award.

“Our class is very talented; students have been presenting at conferences and some of them have even participated in really great internships,” said Turner referring to her peer group.

She added that the she looked up to the award winner from the previous year and said she often saw her as a role model.

Turner further shared her insights on how being a curious learner and having good relationships with professors helped her in her academic pursuits. Turner said her professors have always considered her when there was an opportunity in her area of research interest.

On the topic of research she said, her first foray was working with Urban & Regional Planning’s Associate Professor Eva Kassens-Noor and Assistant Professor Zenia Kotval on a Michigan Department of Transportation grant. The project evaluated the road transportation system throughout the state.

Her contribution to this statewide research consisted mainly of riding buses, interviewing passengers and synthesizing data that the respective agencies could use to improve their systems. The findings, also shared with the Michigan Department of Transportation, elaborated on the status of road transportation within the state.

“It allowed me to see how communities across the state lived. Each one was unique, complete with distinct problems and assets. I loved gaining insight from the passengers I spoke with.”

Turner’s research interest is sustainable development. She says that the research with Senior Specialist and Instructor Rex LaMore happened to be her favorite thus far. This study gave her the opportunity to work on a survey with planners to understand barriers in implementation of sustainable initiatives.

She pointed out that in a place like Michigan, where climate change is apparent with sudden flooding, hot spells in September, etc., planners seem to be failing to recognize the urgency with which they must act on sustainability initiatives.

This two-year research focused on this disconnect and surveyed city planners to see how to bridge the gap.

When asked about coming to study at MSU, Turner said community engagement and environmental sustainability played a major role in shaping her thoughts and aspirations, and the Urban & Regional Planning program gave her just that.

She said, “I loved how small the program was, I always knew my classmates and professors.”

In summer 2017, she found her niche in environmental planning and sustainability, while on a school-based study abroad trip to Iceland, Portugal and Germany.

Turner attributed her success to, “connections with faculty and taking classes with professors who were willing to take me in on their research projects. They are the ones who inspired me and mentored me.”

“And that’s a big game changer,” she continued. “I have improved as a student and this has led to the award.”

Advice that Turner had for student is that the key to success is to talk to people – classmates, professors, etc.

“It’s a small program and everyone is doing great work. Having conversations will help develop your research and could lead to collaboration in the future. Professors provide referrals for jobs and letters of recommendation,” she said.

“Try to get on a commission in a city or township. Leave a good impression of MSU in the community and contribute what you know.”

When asked about her rewarding moments at MSU as a student, Turner said, “It was when I got appointed to the Commission on the Environment at the City of East Lansing. It allowed me to create partnerships between the City and MSU. The work I do with them reaffirmed that planning is what I want to do.”

Turner added that this experience gave her the opportunity to talk about some of her research projects and apply skills she has learned in the program.

“I am working on green building codes for the commission and that comes directly from the research I did with LaMore. Now, I am bringing him into the conversation to extend it and see what can be accomplished through collaboration; I hope that this will have a profound impact.”


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