Master of Urban Planning (MUP) student, Asela Chavez-Basurto, dove into professional practice during a summer internship at Sound Transit. She took on real-world planning projects in Seattle, further exploring the dynamics of collaborative teamwork. Specifically, Asela joined the Sound Transit Planning, Environment and Project Development department. As a result, she focused much of her time on alternative transportation. She worked to assess and improve the Sound Transit bike program in particular.
The internship experience
Asela managed two projects that studied morning peak-hour bike ridership. Notably, she focused on studying bike commuting trends at busy light rail stations. The projects included conducting time-intensive bike count surveys. Subsequently, Asela employed the help of multiple volunteers to successfully complete this work. Through this process, she provided key leadership in the field. Asela specifically organized survey schedules and directly trained volunteers to collect data. Above all, she gained valuable perspective in a project management role. Accordingly, Asela integrated classroom lessons with her growing on-the-ground knowledge. Most significantly, she completed work that has a measurable impact for her community.
“For me, the most valuable part of my internship experience has been the opportunity to apply my skills directly,” Asela shared. “I’ve spent the last year acquiring knowledge, and this was the chance to translate all of that into tangible work that’s useful to others.”
Looking at the bigger picture
Asela is originally from Mexico, where she initially studied architecture. She’s lived in the Seattle area for the past five years. Presently, Asela in her 2nd year in the University of Washington MUP program. After graduation, she wants to focus on addressing the larger, interconnected issues around urban design and planning.
“Architecture gave me valuable skills and experiences, but I felt it did not include the kind of problems I was passionate to resolve,” she explained. “To me, site analysis and user input were as pivotal as design styles. I observed that sometimes buildings were built for the architects and not its users and I wanted to have a broader impact.”
Ultimately, Asela learned about professional practice directly. In addition, she shared the insights she gained with others. She presented her work at the 2019 Sound Transit Intern Presentations. This annual event, open to the agency’s entire 800 plus workforce, gives interns a platform to showcase their projects.
“My most memorable experience at Sound Transit [was] giving my internship presentation,” said Asela. “I loved sharing my experience at the department and the projects I worked on. The presentation was an opportunity to introduce myself, my goals, and my contributions.”
Laying a strong foundation
For planning students like Asela, the combination of academic and internship experience is often helpful for career preparation. That is to say, internships can compliment academic learning. They offer an important glimpse into professional practice. Moreover, having the opportunity to contribute to team projects, and accordingly network with established professionals, can create rich opportunities post-graduation.
“Through the MUP program, I’ve acquired knowledge of regional regulations and professional processes that allow me to understand the current issues and potential solutions. It’s not difficult for me to know where my contributions could fit into the work of the agency and also on the development of the city and the region; this inspires me to work hard every day.”
> To learn more about the Master of Urban Planning (MUP) program, visit the website here.