Urban & Regional Planning alumnus Griffin Graham receives 2017 AICP Outstanding Student Award

Recent Urban & Regional Planning (URP) alumnus Griffin Graham was awarded the 2017 American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) Outstanding Student Award for his dedication to the field of planning as an undergraduate student.

Photo of recent Urban & Regional Planning (URP) alumnus Griffin Graham.
Recent Urban & Regional Planning (URP) alumnus Griffin Graham.

Recent Urban & Regional Planning (URP) alumnus Griffin Graham was awarded the 2017 American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) Outstanding Student Award for his dedication to the field of planning as an undergraduate student.

This award recognizes outstanding achievements in the study of planning by students graduating from Planning Accreditation Board (PAB)-accredited planning programs, such as the URP Program in the School of Planning, Design and Construction.

A student is chosen at both the graduate and undergraduate level by each program. To be considered for the award the student must first be nominated via a formal letter from the program lead at their university.

Graham was nominated to receive the undergraduate level award by a vote of the URP faculty. To be considered for nomination by the program, a student must demonstrate high levels of academic achievement, leadership and commitment to planning.

Graham said he received an email from Professor Mark Wilson, the URP Program Leader, letting him know he had won the award in early April.

“I was immediately very grateful,” he said.

Graham said the first people he told were his family, including his mother and grandmother.

“I come from a family of very strong and educated women, and education is very important to them,” he said. “They were very proud of me.”

Graham got his start at MSU four years ago in the Lyman Briggs College.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to work in the public sector.”

With his stepfather being an elected public official, Graham said he has always felt a push to be a leader within the community.

He took Urban Planning 201, an introductory URP course, as an elective for his degree in Environmental Science and Management.

“Looking back, I have no idea why I enrolled in that course, but I loved it,” he said. “I saw the potential to combine the things I was passionate about.”

Graham was smitten with URP after just one course, and began working towards his second degree. Since he came to MSU with 32 credits, Graham could have graduated at least a year early.

“I decided to stay all four years and get two complimentary degrees,” he stated. “I really felt like staying at MSU was a better value of my time.”

While in the URP program, Graham talked about the fact that he really didn’t get involved, outside of taking courses, until late junior year.

“I know its cliché, but advice I have for current students is get involved,” he said. “This program is less about the courses, and more about the people.”

By his senior year, Graham said he’d found his comfort zone within the major.

“We have a really tight knit family here,” he elaborated. “Once you find that niche, the program really speaks for itself in the kind of success you can have.”

As a URP graduate who doesn’t see himself as a traditional planner, Graham says it is important for URP students to know the degree can be whatever you make it.

“Don’t go into URP thinking you have to be a municipal planner, because there is so much more you can do with the degree,” he said. “That flexibility, or that it is what you make it feeling, is a major value to our program.

The Urban Planning 494 Planning Practicum, the program’s capstone course is where students establish a community partner, and work with that partner to prepare and present near-professional quality reports and graphics for community improvement projects.

Graham said he knew going into Practicum that he wanted to be a city manager, and not a city planner.

“If you ask anyone in our program, they’ll tell you I’m not actually in love with planning,” he said.

He said this difference in thoughts and approaches was not intimidating, but instead excited him for interdisciplinary opportunities.

“The value in diversity is combining different perspectives,” said Graham. “If everyone came with the same perspective, we will have nothing new.”

Graham held an Administration and Human Resources Internship with Meridian Township the summer before and after his senior year at MSU.

“To see what a well-functioning community looks like, and getting so much face time with community partners, elected officials and local residents was invaluable,” he said.

This internship helped cement his goals to be a city manager.

“The problems you are solving affect people; you get to really see the effects of your work.”

Graham received a full-ride assistantship for his Master’s degree from Indiana University Bloomington, where he now attends the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

“I pay for my own schooling, so being able to tell people I’m getting my Master’s degree paid for is incredible!,” he said.

Graham was a Resident Assistant (RA) at Michigan State University from February 2015 to May 2017. He feels this experience, in particular, qualified him for his assistantship as a Graduate Supervisor where he manages a team of RAs at Indiana University Bloomington.

“I’ll graduate in 2019 with a Master’s degree,” he said. “I hope I can be a city manager within five-years after that.”

Please join us in celebrating Griffin Graham for his award and achievements!

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