Building a More Equitable World

As urban planners, designers, leaders, and innovators, we are working to change the culture and face of the planning profession so that who we are reflects those we serve. Our vision is a world in which all people are empowered with the ability to make decisions about their communities, and where all communities are fully engaged in the vital task of shaping our collective future.

Each year, we graduate a new generation of passionate professionals ready to contribute to the change we seek. Our students study urban planning because they believe in the need for an equitable, just future and they know that planners have the power to transform the world for the better.

Help strengthen equity and inclusion within our student body. Make a gift to the Urban Design and Planning Endowed Equity Fund. Your donation helps us to recruit and support the studies of students who have deep experience with diversity. With your help, we can prepare the next generation of professionals to lead our communities, striving for a more vibrant, inclusive, and equitable society.

Learn more about the Urban Design and Planning Professionals Council.

2020 Recipient: Markus Johnson

Markus Johnson(MUP ’22)

My name is Markus Johnson and I am an incoming Master of Urban Planning (MUP) student. There are a few reasons why I chose to come to UW. One reason is that UW is in the city of Seattle, which is an area I’ve been interested in for a few years now. Another reason why I chose UW, is because of the program. I felt the program gives me ample room to stretch and gain knowledge about many issues in urban planning, but it also will prepare me to work in the industry after school.

One key factor for choosing UW is the UDP Professional Council and the prospect of being able to pair with a professional mentor. For me, this is a big deal. After finishing my other degrees I have had no luck and a terrible time starting a career and finding work. So, having a mentor that can help ask the right questions and really lock in on a potential career path is a big deal for me.

Lastly, the biggest reason I chose UW was that I could financially afford it due in part to this scholarship from UDP Professional Council. Without donors like you, UDP may not have the funds to offer me the financial package they did and that would have made choosing UW almost an impossible choice. So, Thank you for what you do, it definitely helped me get to a program, university, and city that I wanted to be in.

To share a bit more about me, my background is in environmental science and policy. I am bringing a large frame, lens, or focus of the climate crisis to my studies as an urban planner. I am interested in anything that revolves around decarbonization, whether that be electrification, the design of buildings, the design of communities, transportation, etc. I am also very interested in the design of bringing more nature into our urban communities, such as permaculture parks, green roofs, green alleys, green walls, etc.

I consider myself an athletic, fit guy. So, you’ll catch me at the gym, lifting weights, shooting hoops, and doing yoga. I plan on adding hiking to activities I like to do, as I hear there are a lot of hiking options in the Seattle area. I’m really excited about using a bike and more public transit to get to school and around the city. Lastly, I enjoy gardening and working with plants. Therefore, I will be engaging with a community garden or two, along with having plants inside my place.

I look forward to the fall and thank you Donors, you are making a lasting impact on students.

Thank you,
Markus Johnson

2019 Recipient: Dejai Mitchell

Dejai Mitchell (MUP ’21)

As a first-time college student raised by a single mother with very limited income, the opportunity to go to college, let alone continue off to graduate school, seemed like an impossible feat. Like many others, as a kid I dreamed of becoming an astronaut, veterinarian and even the president. Though these are not impossible ideas, I realized that those professions were not my calling. Subconsciously, it’s always been a passion of mine, if not a personality trait, to help people succeed and prosper in all ways that I can. However, though this passion fueled me, I understood that the idea of adequately supporting myself was just as important. Thus, here I was stuck between my passion and just simply the idea of making money.

So, I continued through college and graduated as an economics major, despite my somewhat indifference to crunching numbers. Yet, through my struggles of economics there was a silver lining. I realized that my community and many others around me were being displaced and pushed out all in the name of gentrification; and ever since I’ve become aware I have wanted nothing more than to change the dynamics of gentrification and make community life better for minorities and lower class citizens.

Though it is here in graduate school that I am able to study ways to help my community through urban planning, it is truly with the help from donors like you that I am able to fulfill my passion and meet my high education dreams. With this assistance I am enabled to be that voice, that strategist, that innovator for minority communities in this new age of planning and development. It is a great honor to be granted this award. Being able to positively impact my community truly means the world to me and I am so very appreciative to be afforded the opportunity to create that impact by donors like you!

2018 Recipient: Michelle Abunaja

Michelle Abunaja (MUP ’20)

I am elated and honored to be a recipient of the Equity Fund. The donors to this scholarship have made it possible for me to attend my dream institution.

I am a first generation college student and the child of immigrants. As the first to go to college and first generation American, I am the pioneer of understanding American education for my family.

I completed my undergraduate education at Eastern Washington University (EWU) where I studied pollution sequestration of urban street trees, to understand air quality for pedestrians in the U-District of Spokane, WA. I finished my time at EWU Magna Cum Laude, with internships at an engineering firm, Spokane Regional Health District and as a Health Educator at EWU. I am excited to bring my ideas and work to UW, and eager to learn and grow among people with synergistic interests.

I intend to focus my studies on public health and transportation planning, and Seattle is the perfect city lab to study these topics. This scholarship will give me more time to explore my research interests and perform well in school by alleviating some of the financial pressures of graduate school.

2017 Recipient: Louie Leiva

Louie Leiva (MUP ’19)

I am a first-generation college student and proud son to immigrant parents from El Salvador. I am committed to continuing my education not only for myself, but for my family. My parents did not have the linguistic capabilities or institutional know-how to teach me how to navigate the college application process; much less the ability to teach me what would be required to graduate.

2018 Update:

Louie is now a second-year MUP student with a concentration in transportation. Last year he was a member of the graduate student advisory board for the UW Graduate Opportunities & Minority Achievement Program (GO-MAP) where he and fellow board members organized the MLK Day of Service in partnership with Danny Woo Gardens in the International District. Currently Louie is serving as a graduate staff assistant with GO-MAP.

In every space he enters, Louie is always representing his home city of Los Angeles and his proud Latinx heritage. His work seeks to connect art and advocacy – with special interest in public space. He has launched a website with two of his peers in Social Work and Public health to celebrate Black Urban Planners, served on an artist selection committee with Danny Woo Gardens, and co-led youth workshops with the Rainier Scholars. Louie aims to continue to actively engage with and support the

2016 Recipient: Elise Rasmussen

Elise Rasmussen (MUP ’18)

The Equity Fund award was instrumental in my decision to attend the University of Washington, and will aid in my goals to change the environments of urban America.

After graduating from Carleton College, I joined Teach for America and spent four years as a teacher in predominately low-income communities of color. While my students demonstrated their resiliency, it became clear they faced challenges in housing, food insecurity, and gang violence on a daily basis. My experience in the classroom proved that students must be psychologically and physiologically healthy to fully access education. This realization led me to take a step back and consider a further-reaching strategy for social justice.

I am pursuing concurrent Master of Urban Planning and Master of Public Health degrees to study how the built environment impacts health, and the role that housing plays in health disparities. The families I served as an educator made it apparent that affordable and adequate housing is often the path toward gaining more social and financial stability.

2018 Update:

Elise is in her last year of graduate school, and is loving the pairing of her two programs. Her capstone/professional project is with Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development where she is conducting an evaluation of the Equitable Development Initiative (EDI) with the goal of making the EDI Fund more racially equitable. Elise also continues to intern at the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) where she’s working alongside communities of color to foster solutions to increase walk and bike commuting among students. Her coursework, capstone/professional project, and work at SDOT make it clear to Elise that her interests lie in creating and maintaining healthy and desirable neighborhoods with people of color and for people of color.

2015 Recipient: Roseann Atkinson

Roseann Atkinson (MUP ’17)

I am from Long Island, New York, and I’m the first person in my family to attend and graduate college. I have a B.A. in Economics, and an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction.

My decision to study Urban Planning brings me back to my teaching experience in the Mississippi Delta. I witnessed how the decline of economic growth and employment opportunities led to a declining population and tax base. I saw planning decisions being made by government officials with little to no input from the people most impacted.

Planning can affect not just the design of a city but can help facilitate public participation and achieve balance between community life, economic growth, and long-term sustainability. I see planning and education addressing similar issues, such as social and economic inequities.

2018 Update:

Today Rosey is a Real Estate Development Associate at Plymouth Housing – a job she loves. She gets to work on development projects in every stage from acquisition and financing to design and construction. The Equity Fund gave her opportunities to not only attend classes but to engage and participate in professional challenges, which helped her land her dream job.


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