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Alumni Biographies

Geography and Philosophy

Alumni Biographies

John Bennett
John Bennett was a double major at UMD with a degree in Urban and Regional Studies (Public Policy track) and Geography. While in the URS program, John completed internships with both the City of Duluth Department of Urban Development and the City of Brooklyn Park Planning Department. Along with another UMD Geography student, John completed a senior project that analyzed public attitudes about land use decisions for the community of Park Point in Duluth.

After graduating from UMD, John went on to graduate school at Northwestern University to complete a degree in Public Policy and Administration with an emphasis in Community and Economic Development. At Northwestern, John completed research projects in five struggling Chicago neighborhoods that focused on resource availability and neighborhood change.

John now works with the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality as a Community Economics Educator. In this role, John delivers programs designed to improve the economic condition and quality of life for communities in northeastern Minnesota. He delivers programs that help businesses and the community closer together to retain and expand their business base, helps local business stay competitive with using new technology, and also does work with communities that want to retain young adults. In addition, John also manages the Public Finance Education programs for the Center for Community Vitality.

Darren Jablonsky
Darren Jablonsky is the Planning, Research, and GIS Manager for St. Louis County Planning & Development Department. He oversees the department community and comprehensive planning efforts and initiatives, as well as the county’s enterprise GIS planning, integration and implementation in coordination with county department GIS. He is one of the lead people tasked with facilitating, coordinating and developing a county portal for land records data and systems. He has a bachelor degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth in Urban and Regional Studies with various Professional certifications in Planning and GIS. The UMD Urban Studies program is a critical foundation for young professionals entering the planning field and workforce. It provides valuable insight and knowledge that will be used for many years in the planning field.

Andy McDonald
I graduated in Spring 1995 from UMD with a BA in Urban and Regional Studies (URS) and a minor in Geography. I completed my required internship with the City of Duluth Community Development Department during Spring Quarter 1995. I enrolled in the Masters of Liberal Studies (MLS) Program at UMD in Winter Quarter 1996. I was hired as an intern at the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC) in February 1996 and completed the internship in August 1996. I was hired as a Planner at ARDC in December 1996 and have worked there for over 12 years. I completed my MLS in 2001 with a focus area in Spatial Analysis and Ecological Economics. I also obtained my American Institute of Certified Planners certification in 2001.
How did the Urban and Regional Studies program help me get where I am? The coursework from the URS program provided me with a wide range of knowledge and skills that I still utilize today. Coursework in statistics, geography, economics, sociology and political science presented me with the varied collection of topics that planners face in their day to day work. It touched on many issues that I deal with in my work as a transportation planner.
I presently work for the Metropolitan Interstate Council (MIC) at ARDC, which is the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the Duluth-Superior area. MPOs such as the MIC are a forum for discussion and resolution of inter-jurisdictional transportation issues. Topics that the MIC addresses include traffic analysis, port land use, freight movements, and bike/pedestrian/transit issues. Skills important to planners include statistical analysis, public speaking, group facilitation, research, technical and writing. It is also important to be well versed in geographic information systems. A typical day at the MIC may include organizing/facilitating a committee meeting, answering phone questions from a private citizen or public official, updating our web page, writing letters and memos, conducting background research, and writing final documents. The work is varied, challenging and rewarding.

Ben Van Tassel
I graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth with a Bachelor's in Urban and Regional Studies in 2006. I gravitated towards this degree while at UMD because of the diverse studies/classes in the program including geography, sociology, economics, and political science. I chose the Public Policy and Administration track as I was most interested in working at an administrative level within a planning office.

Since graduation, I have worked at the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission as a Planner in the Regional Planning Division. Our office is located in Duluth, however the Regional Planning Division works in the seven-county region (Cook, Lake, St. Louis, Aitkin, Carlton, Koochiching, and Itasca County) outside of Duluth. As a Planner, I facilitate a variety of planning processes including comprehensive plan development, trail plans, and a variety of other planning processes for communities. Generally, I work with elected officials, professionals from state and local governments, and citizens. I enjoy working with the rural communities and helping them to set goals and manage growth and change. My job duties include grant writing and management, document development, public speaking, map (GIS) development, and meeting facilitation.

The Urban and Regional Studies Program at UMD prepared me for this job in a number of ways. The program set a strong base by educating about the history and methodology of planning efforts. Also the broad range of courses gave me a rounded education, which I use to address many issues on a regular basis. The internship that I completed with the City of Duluth Planning Department was beneficial in showing me the day-to-day activities of a planning office. The Urban and Regional Studies Degree was instrumental in jump-starting my career as a Planner.