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Biagi Honored with Marek Award

Michael Sewall, CUPPA Alumni Association President; Gia Biagi, Commissioner for the Chicago Department of Transportation; David Merriman, Professor, and Stacey Swearingen White, CUPPA Dean

Gia Biagi, who currently serves as the Commissioner for the Chicago Department of Transportation, has seen her career take many directions since she finished her Master’s in Urban Planning and Policy at CUPPA in 2012. While her time in the MUPP program is only one reason why she’s accomplished as much in her career as she has, her time at UIC has nonetheless had a critical impact on the way her career has unfolded.

“I’ve had an opportunity to work at multiple city agencies in different ways, doing everything from physical planning to economic development planning to community development, really touching all of the pillars of the program,” Biagi said. “I think that’s a testament to how strong the education and practice focus of UIC is, and it’s really enabled me to wear many hats, have a lot of incredible experiences, and try to make my city a better one for everyone who lives here.”

In recognition of the incredible impact that she’s had in the city of Chicago in recent decades, Biagi was just awarded the Jim Marek CUPPA Alumni Association Appreciation Award on August 18. Named in honor of Marek, who served for nearly three decades as the CUPPA assistant dean for student services before unexpectedly passing away in 2010, the prize is awarded annually to an outstanding CUPPA alum whose work has had a significant impact on their field. Biagi said she was grateful to the alumni association for choosing her, noting that she was fortunate to work with Marek during her time in the program.

Mary Lupa (MUPP 91), a retired planner who previously worked at WSP USA, nominated Biagi for the award. She said that she’s long admired Biagi’s work in the city of Chicago, and credits her for making the most of the many opportunities she’s gained after graduating from the program.

“Balancing the good things that are possible with the many challenging aspects of executive leadership at the commissioner level is extremely tough,” Lupa said. “Gia’s flexibility, intelligence and her breadth of capability are what makes her exceptional.”

Biagi’s work at Studio Gang led to an appearance on a panel during the 2017 Urban Forum titled “Building a Just City: Shaping Communities’ Quality of Life.” Former CUPPA Dean Mike Pagano chose Biagi to present at that panel, recognizing her tremendous impact

“When Gia worked at [Studio Gang], she was highly involved in community planning and engagement, and her visibility in Jeanne [Gang’s] firm made her an outstanding choice to be part of the panel about public architecture and art,” Pagano said. “She stood out for her clear sense of values for community engagement.”

Since graduating from UIC with a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning and Policy Biagi has had a varied, multifaceted career. Immediately upon graduation, Biagi began working for the Chicago Park District, where she stayed for the next 15 years. Her time at the Park District was varied, as she moved from a role as a project manager to serving as the District’s Chief of Staff for the last two years of her time in the agency. Biagi then spent the next five years working at Studio Gang Architects, one of the nation’s leading architectural firms, leading the company’s Urbanism + Civic Impact practice, which seeks to encourage greater equity within cities through strategic urban design practices. Then, at the start of 2020, Biagi was named the Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation, a critical role overseeing countless aspects of the city’s transportation infrastructure, from public transit and the Divvy bike share system to right-of-way systems on roads.

In these many roles across the city of Chicago, Biagi has inevitably encountered countless CUPPA graduates, all making their own impact on the city. While the program has given her unique opportunities to work across many fields, she said she’s always excited to see where CUPPA graduates take their skills, all invested in making the places they call home better than before.

“It’s powerful that there’s a community of people who were trained similarly, with threads running through similar values and curriculum, and that we’re sort of everywhere with our fingerprints all over Chicago,” Biagi said. “[CUPPA’s] orientation toward making sure that students are active in the real world while they’re there leads to longer-term careers and opportunities in doing all kinds of varieties of planning and public policy.”