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Creating eco-friendly infrastructure design: Meet Jan Whittington

“I’m exactly where I want to be.”

For associate professor of Urban Design and Planning Jan Whittington, this statement sums up her feelings about being on the faculty of a large public university, doing what she loves, with good opportunities to secure research funding.

Her statement applies equally well to the 1906 Craftsman near Ravenna Park that Jan calls home.

As Jan settles in front of a thick wood-framed nook characteristic of the Craftsman style, she lovingly describes her house–with its distinct spaces and muted colors–as perfect for an academic and perfect for her.


Her story began, coincidentally, in the birthplace of the Craftsman bungalow: Southern California. More precisely, in Oak View, a “two stoplight town” well outside the urban sprawl of Los Angeles near the artists’ haven of Ojai.

Describing fond childhood memories, Jan, whose career has been mainly in the male-dominated field of infrastructure planning, noted two small but impactful moments of empowerment as a girl: becoming the first female voted as foreperson in her 7th grade woodshop class and playing baseball with the boys as one of only two girls in her local Little League.

This sense of being empowered continued when, thanks to a caring high school counselor who took the time to show her options for funding higher education, she became the first in her immediate family to attend college, heading up the coast to the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Her first academic loves were biology and environmental studies, but a pivotal moment came during a Smithsonian Institution-funded internship on San Nicolas Island, the most remote of the California Channel Islands.

Assisting biologists observing sea lions in their natural habitat more than 60 miles from the mainland, she found that both the biologists and the animals were continually disturbed by the U.S. Navy’s presence on the island. In that moment, Jan realized that there were probably no completely pristine natural environments left on the planet.

She decided to switch her focus to the impact of infrastructure projects on these environments, a decision that would change the course of her career.