Meraki Community Planning in Kamloops, British Columbia
After graduating with a Master of Arts in Geography (University of Western Ontario) and a Bachelor of Arts in Human and Physical Geography (Brock University), Maren Luciani secured a job as a project manager for an urban development firm in Providence, Rhode Island, specializing in brownfields redevelopment. Luciani credits her diverse skillset, attitude and various real world experiences for getting her that position and others that followed. Today, she operates her own firm specializing in long-range planning, community engagement and healthy, sustainable built environments.
1. How do you incorporate geography into your work?
Qualitative and quantitative geographic research methods and analyses have helped shape my work and made me a better planner. My work also studies how people interact with their surroundings and how the built environment impacts health and well-being. GIS is a big part of what I do. About 80 percent of my work involves GIS for land use analysis, as well as to understand barriers to development and community trends. A lot of what I do is engrained in human and physicial geography.
2. Looking back, what would you have done differently?
If I could go back in time, I probably would have become a naturopath because I am passionate about health and wellness. Fortunately, I have been able to practice a career that satisfies that desire. There are not a lot of areas of study that would allow me to do that, but geography is one that does. For my master’s thesis, for example, I took a geographic approach to identify what food insecurity looks like across London, Ontario, and was able to work with the Middlesex-London Health Unit to achieve that. Today, one of my current projects involves conducting an age-friendly community needs assessment and developing a long-range plan for a BC municipality that wants to better support the health and wellness of its aging population through improvements/enhancements to outdoor spaces, housing, transportation, programs and services.
3. What skills do you wish you learned during your education that would help you in the job market today?
During my studies, it would have been valuable to have had some formal classes in community engagement. There are more opportunities for that now because community engagement is such a hot topic, but that would have been really valuable for me at the time. There also should have been more emphasis on using Microsoft Excel for data collection and analysis. This is a skill that I have mainly developed on my own, but it is important to have when you are dealing with large data sets and working in the field of geography.
4. Do you have any advice for students wishing to attain a fulfilling career in geography?
Take some courses in GIS even if it is not an area you want to pursue as your specialty. Make sure you are familiar with it because you will likely be working with individuals who are providing that service to you. Become proficient in Microsoft Excel, Word, PowerPoint and Adobe Suite. I would also encourage students to pursue a master’s degree. In this day and time, you are at a disadvantage when searching and applying for jobs if you do not have a graduate-level education. A master’s degree focuses on training you to think critically and it will open doors for you career-wise. Finally, students should also consider taking a wide variety of courses in both human and physical geography, especially if they are looking to get into urban or community planning. Having developed skills and knowledge in various streams of geography and urban planning has enabled me to become a ‘jack-of-all-trades’, opening up more doors from an employment perspective.