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New Planning Program to Help Communities Handle Growth, Rail

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By Karen Guin

As Central Florida communities struggle with growth and prepare for new high-speed and commuter rail lines, the University of Central Florida is poised to train more planners who can help them.

UCF launched a new master's program today in Urban and Regional Planning. The first comprehensive planning program for students in Central Florida is tailored for working adults, who should be able to earn degrees after three years of taking courses part time.

Graduates will be able to work for government agencies, private firms or nonprofit organizations at the local, state and federal levels, said Mary Ann Feldheim, chair of the Department of Public Administration. A master's degree is needed for most planning jobs in the current market, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Planners identify and recommend actions involving land use, urban design, environmental protection, real estate and housing. Central Florida is ripe for such a program because of the region's practices in handling rapid growth, urban innovations such as the planned communities of Celebration and Baldwin Park and the new high-speed and commuter rail initiatives. 

The program's holistic approach considers the collective health of individuals, communities and the natural environment. Students learn how these components interrelate in courses on planning methods, transportation policy, environmental program management, economic development and planning healthy communities. Students also choose one of three areas for focused study:  healthy community planning, environmental planning or transportation planning. 

"All three areas are important to the health and sustainability of our Central Florida communities," said Feldheim, who added that UCF's program is the only one in the state to offer a focus on healthy community planning.

Faculty members from many departments, including Public Administration, Sociology, Political Science, Engineering and Health Professions, are teaching in the program. The Central Florida planning community also helped to develop the courses.

"Almost every national firm in planning has a presence in Orlando," Feldheim said. "The planning community has made a strong commitment to supporting the new program through its willingness to offer internships, mentorships and studio experiences." 

A dozen students began their studies this week, and the program's enrollment could increase to 80 students by fall 2012.

"The university can be a laboratory for advancing the best practices for urban and regional planning and a great partner to both the public and private sectors in developing solutions to our most serious urban problems." said Jim Sellen, an urban planner in Central Florida for more than 30 years and currently a principal with the Orlando-based firm VHB Miller Sellen.

Feldheim, Associate Professor Jay Jurie and Assistant Professor Christopher Hawkins, all of Public Administration, led the development of the new program. 

For more information, visit www.graduatecatalog.ucf.edu/programs. Under "Health and Public Affairs," select "Urban and Regional Planning M.S."


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— Adam Stubley B.S. in criminal justice, criminal profiling certificate ('11)
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— Jamie Dyson Rehabilitation Supervisor, Orlando Regional Medical Center
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My master's education helped me see the big picture of the nonprofit industry. UCF showed me how to see the different fundraising tools within the Central Florida area."
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— Richard "Ben" Hagen Research and Communications Associate, New Economy Project, New York City; B.S. in public administration ('10)
I am excited to be able to give back to the program that invested so much in me. It is truly and honor and a privilege."
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The faculty advisor [at my medical school] was amazed that I had the opportunity to truly participate in the full spectrum of research as an undergraduate. "
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