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CUPPA Alumni Profile Series – Featuring Ivis Garcia, UPP PhD ’15

CUPPA alumnae, Dr. Ivis Garcia, earned her PhD in Urban Planning and Policy in May of 2015. She currently serves as associate professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at Texas A&M University and as Vice-President and President-Elect of the American Collegiate Schools of Planning.

Ivis Garcia, UPP PhD '15

Q: What drew you to the field of Urban Planning and made you choose to do a Ph.D. in Urban Planning and Policy at CUPPA?

My interest in urban planning began when I was doing an associate degree in Environmental Hazard and health, where I engaged in an Environmental Planning Protection student competition with the Navajo Nation in New Mexico on the issue of clean water. I was particularly drawn to the environmental, social, and community aspects of urban planning and wanted to explore ways to create more equitable and sustainable communities. I ended up getting a Master of Community & Regional Planning at the University of New Mexico and a Master in Latin American Studies (Dr. Teresa Cordova was on my master’s thesis committee which was about gentrification in Vieques Puerto Rico after the closure of a Navy base). I worked in the Bay Area in Urban Ecology (a non-profit) and the City of Concord (on the Concord Naval Weapons Station Redevelopment Plan). In 2009 after the financial crisis the department I worked in downsized and I became unemployed. And that is how I decided to pursue a doctoral degree, although I was always very driven to research. In fact, during my undergraduate studies, I was part of the McNair program which prepared underrepresented students for advanced degrees. I chose to pursue a Ph.D. in Urban Planning and Policy at CUPPA because of the program’s strong reputation and its focus on social justice and community development. I was also attracted to the fact that there was a sizable Puerto Rican community. I ended up working in the Voorhees Center with Dr. Janet Smith (rest in peace) and Yittayih Zelalem in their Department of Defense project (which aligned with my previous work) and I did my dissertation in collaboration with the Puerto Rican Agenda, a community group in the Humboldt Park area.

Q: Describe your main scholarly interests. What should students who may not be familiar with your work know about Asset-Based Community Development?

My main scholarly interests revolve around community development, social justice, and equity in urban planning. Specifically, I am interested in understanding how communities can mobilize their assets and resources to address challenges and create positive change. Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is an approach to community development that focuses on identifying and mobilizing the strengths and assets that already exist within a community. It shifts the traditional deficit-based model of community development, which often focuses on problems and needs, to one that recognizes and builds upon the strengths and assets that communities possess. This approach emphasizes the importance of community participation and empowerment in decision-making processes and aims to foster sustainable, resilient, and self-reliant communities.

Students who may not be familiar with my work should know that I have conducted research and written extensively about the theory and practice of ABCD. I have explored how communities can leverage their assets to address issues such as affordable housing, economic development, and environmental sustainability. I believe that ABCD has the potential to transform how we approach community development and I encourage students to explore this approach in their own work.

Q: What experiences from your time in CUPPA stand out to you most? How have those experiences supported you in the work you’re doing now as a professor and Vice-President of ACSP?

One of the experiences that stands out to me most from my time at CUPPA is the opportunity to work with and learn from a diverse group of faculty and students. The interdisciplinary nature of the program allowed me to engage with different perspectives and approaches to urban planning, which has been invaluable in my current work as a professor and Vice-President of ACSP. I also valued the emphasis on applied research and the opportunity to collaborate with community organizations and stakeholders. These experiences helped me understand the importance of engaging with communities and the need to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Additionally, my time at CUPPA provided me with a solid foundation in research and critical thinking skills, which have been instrumental in my scholarly work and in advancing the field of urban planning.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in your role as President of ACSP? What lessons or experiences from CUPPA do you anticipate bringing into this role?

Right now I am the Vice-President (President-Elect).  I am most looking forward to advancing the field of urban planning and promoting the role of planning in addressing challenges such as social inequality, climate change, and housing affordability. I am excited to work with colleagues from across the country and internationally to shape the future of urban planning education and practice. From my experiences in CUPPA, I anticipate bringing a commitment to social justice, and equity to my role as President of ACSP. I believe that planning should strive to create inclusive and sustainable communities, and I will work to promote these values within the organization. Additionally, my background in community development and my focus on asset-based approaches in planning will inform my work as President. I hope to highlight the importance of community engagement and collaboration in addressing complex urban challenges.

Q: Are you where you thought you would be approximately 8 years after receiving your degree from CUPPA?

I think it’s important to acknowledge that our career paths are often unpredictable and can take unexpected turns. While I had a general vision of the work I wanted to do after receiving my degree from CUPPA, I couldn’t have predicted the exact trajectory of my career. For example, I did not know I was going to become the president-elect of ACSP. However, as a Ph.D. student, I became involved with the Planners of Color Interest Group. Then, as a new faculty member, I joined some of my former Ph.D. program colleagues like Dr. Andrew Greenlee (who is now a Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign) and Dr. April Jackson in doing some POCIG-ASCP work. We did a lot of service together which led to initiatives within the organization. One lesson to learn is to keep your friends from graduate school and keep your CUPAA network alive!

That being said, I am grateful for the opportunities that have come my way since graduating from CUPPA. I have been able to combine my passions for research, teaching, and community engagement in my current role as an associate professor and Vice-President of ACSP. I am proud of the work I have been able to accomplish in the field of urban planning and continue to be motivated by the impact we can have on creating more just and equitable communities.

Q: What advice would you offer to current Urban Planning and Policy students in CUPPA? Do you have any specific advice for students interested in doing work in the fields of housing and community development?

My advice to current Urban Planning and Policy students in CUPPA is to take advantage of all the opportunities and resources available to you. Engage with faculty, participate in internships and applied research projects, do service, and get involved with professional organizations like APA and ACSP. These experiences will not only enhance your education but also help you build valuable connections and networks in the field.

For students interested in housing and community development, I would encourage you to seek out hands-on experiences and engage with communities directly. This could involve volunteering with community development initiatives or conducting research projects that address specific housing and community needs. Also, stay connected with community groups if you can. To this day, I am still part of the Puerto Rican Agenda in Humboldt Park (even if I now live in Texas!). We keep doing research projects together that move the community forward like the incorporation of a Puerto Rico town as a State Designated Cultural District in Illinois (Dr. April Jackson and Dr. Teresa Cordova have also been involved in this, so when you see them ask them!).

I would also encourage students to stay informed about current issues and trends in the field, as housing and community development are constantly evolving. This can involve attending conferences, reading industry publications, and staying up to date with the latest research and policies. Finally, don’t be afraid to think outside the box and challenge conventional wisdom. The field of housing and community development needs innovative thinkers who can bring fresh perspectives and solutions to complex problems.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like students in CUPPA to know about you, your work, or the planning discipline?

I want students in CUPPA to know that the work we do as urban planners is incredibly important and impactful. Planning has the ability to shape our cities and communities in ways that can improve people’s quality of life, promote equity, and address pressing societal challenges. I am passionate about the role of planning in fostering community empowerment and resilience. I believe that by leveraging the assets and strengths that communities already possess, we can create more sustainable and just places for all. I also want students to know that the planning discipline is a dynamic and interdisciplinary field. It intersects with various other fields such as sociology, geography, environmental science, disaster management, and public policy. This means that there are numerous opportunities for collaboration and innovation in our work. I am grateful to be part of the planning profession and excited to see the contributions that students in CUPPA will make to the field. As future planners, you have the power to shape the future of our cities and communities and create positive change.

January 2024