Bridging the Gap Between Real-World Practice and Academic Studies
By Amy Karagiannakis
Real-world practice and hands-on experience are key aspects of the Urban Studies and Planning Program at the University of Illinois. All students must complete a capstone experience as a requirement of graduation, which they usually take part in during their junior year. These applied activities, including internships, research, consulting projects, and volunteer work, prepare Illinois Planning graduates for the job market. Alumnus Zishen Ye (BAUSP ’19) knows first-hand how crucial learning experiences outside of the classroom are. “For my capstone project, we worked on a redevelopment plan for downtown Viola, IL. That exposure to rural Midwest towns, seeing how they’ve changed in the past several decades, and developing plans that may give towns like Viola the opportunity to bounce back was a very valuable experience,” Ye shared. Awarded Outstanding Student Project for his capstone experience in 2019, Ye understands the value of experiential learning and wants to make sure future Planning students at Illinois are provided the same opportunities he was.
No stranger to big cities, Ye grew up in Shanghai, China. He was fascinated by the transformation that took place within the city during his childhood as building expansion preceded the need for more robust infrastructure and public transportation. This rapid development in Shanghai is what first piqued Ye’s interest in urban planning. “As I got to travel more as a kid, I got some early exposure to different cities across China and realized the unique power the urban planning profession has in either propelling a city forward or holding it back.” Ye began researching urban planning programs in high school and was particularly impressed with University of Illinois, not just for its highly reputable planning program, but also for the coursework it offered in international relations and political science. Ye reflected on his dual degree education at Illinois, “We learned how to avoid urban sprawl and then how to build cities in a more sustainable fashion, and I think these elements, sustainability and then cooperation, was the central focus of my studies in international relations, so there was definitely a bit of overlap.”
Zishen Ye received a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University this past spring and recently accepted a position as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company in Shanghai. He will be returning to his home city this fall to start work. In the meantime, he’s making the most of his summer and traveling the U.S. on a cross-country road trip from NYC to LA and back. Despite being in the U.S. for 10 years now, he dedicated most of his time to his education and wanted to take this time to explore and learn more about the diverse cultures and cities across the country. This experience, seeing different cities, the well planned and the poorly planned, solidified his belief in the necessity of planners and the important role they play in society.
Despite being a recent graduate himself, Zishen Ye wanted to give back and provide current and future students in Planning at Illinois with the same opportunities he was able to take advantage of. He worked with the Office of Advancement to establish the Zishen Ye Fund for Outstanding Practice in Urban Planning. This fund will bridge the gap between real-world practice and academic studies by providing student and programmatic support in the form of professional development opportunities and undergraduate scholarships. Ye is so grateful for the hands-on practice he experienced while attending school at the University of Illinois. He has interned in Shanghai, Washington D.C., and New York City – each opportunity bringing its own unique value to his education and experience in becoming the professional he is today. Ye hopes that by supporting professional development workshops such as networking sessions and site visits, students will be more prepared for internships and other real-world experiences outside of the classroom. Reflecting on his time at Illinois and the gift, Ye shared, “I got so much support and help from the advisors, professors, and my peers. They genuinely care about the development of each student. I figured if I have the resources and capacity, I want to send the ladder down by making it better for students that get a taste of planning and want to go elsewhere and experience more. Because I was once one of them, and I was helped by so many other people along the way.”
The success of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Illinois is a direct result of the generosity and support of our friends and alumni. If you’d like to learn more about how you can support the Zishen Ye Fund for Outstanding Practice in Urban Planning or other giving initiatives related to Planning at Illinois, please contact Associate Director of Advancement Paula Santiago.