Julianna Tschirhart '11

Sociology/Anthropology major, Spanish minor

Planner, Progressive AE

“Being a Sociology major definitely led to my current career as an urban planner. As a Sociology major, I was trained to think about the systems that shape our lives - the cultural narratives and identities and claims to power that structure our lived experience. As a planner, I work to shape some of these systems through the built environment. Land use and transportation decisions can have profound outcomes on access to opportunity, public health, and climate change, and it’s exciting to work with communities across the country to tackle these issues.”

Tell us what you do.

As a Planner at Progressive AE, I work with private developers, city and county governments, and other stakeholders to tackle planning and zoning issues in their communities. Whether that is leading a master planning process for a small village or working with a developer on getting their project through local zoning approval, my work touches multiple areas of urban planning - from macro to micro. Working at a multi-disciplinary firm with architects, engineers, and other designers allows us to approach projects holistically and offer expertise at various stages of project development.

What have you done since Middlebury?

My first job out of college was in Boston, working in community development as an AmeriCorps fellow. While I loved the work, I knew that I wanted to be doing it back home in Metro Detroit, so I moved back after my service year ended. After working for a small transportation consulting firm in Detroit, I enrolled at the University of Michigan to complete my Masters in Urban Planning. Since that time I’ve had experience working as a municipal planner in three cities across the state. I also served one term on the board of Transportation Riders United, a nonprofit that advocates for more and better transit in southeast Michigan.

How has your major influenced your life after graduation?

Being a Sociology major definitely led to my current career as an urban planner. As a Sociology major, I was trained to think about the systems that shape our lives - the cultural narratives and identities and claims to power that structure our lived experience. As a planner, I work to shape some of these systems through the built environment. Land use and transportation decisions can have profound outcomes on access to opportunity, public health, and climate change, and it’s exciting to work with communities across the country to tackle these issues.

When did you know which major you were going to choose?

Not until my first semester sophomore year - right at the deadline! At the time I was also considering Religion and Environmental Studies. Ultimately I decided to pursue a major that offered me a lens that felt most compelling - studying social systems and relationships.

I think no matter which major you choose, an education at Middlebury is going to serve you by making you a strong writer, communicator, and critical thinker. One of my professors in graduate school remarked to me once that he could always tell which students came from liberal arts schools because they weren’t afraid to speak up in class. My education at Middlebury empowered me to ask questions and be confident in my contributions - whether in the classroom or the workplace.

How did you decide what career path you wanted to pursue after graduating?

It was through the process of writing my senior thesis in sociology that I discovered the field of urban planning. As I learned more about the history of housing and transportation policy that had shaped my hometown, Detroit, Michigan, I felt energized about making an impact in those same fields. As mentioned before, my first job was in community development in Boston and after working in transportation planning in Detroit, I decided to get my masters of urban planning with a focus in transportation planning.

Finally, what advice or suggestions do you have for current students as they consider their post-Middlebury futures?

Get involved with activities on campus to develop your leadership and project management skills. If you are inclined at all, take a class in GIS or graphic design. I think being able to communicate information in a visually compelling way is going to serve you no matter your career path. I would also recommend connecting with alumni on MiddNet (or whatever it is called now!). I had several informational interviews my senior year as I was considering which jobs to apply for and ended up finding my first job out of college through an alumni connection.

Connect with Julianna on Midd2Midd

Learn more about the Sociology Department at Middlebury

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