By Victoria Meléndez
I like to tell people I came here for the weather. On January 4, 2017, I started my trek from sunny Charleston, South Carolina, to Boston to start classes on the 9th. The goal? To obtain a Master of Science in Urban and Regional Policy (MURP) from Northeastern University. Flash-forward 11 months and I am more than halfway through my program and have gained more than I could imagine through my experiences here.
People often ask what possessed me to leave the warmth of a southern beach town in the dead of winter to drive through snow and Boston traffic. Since my undergraduate years, I have served with several nonprofit organizations, all with the aim of affirming the inherent value of those that live on the margins of our society and assisting in leveling the playing field. That experience combined with my background in sociolinguistics has provided me with a framework for analyzing many of the challenges communities face through the lens of human interaction with the built environment, and by extension, the policies that dictate those interactions.
Coming into the MURP program I knew to expect academic rigor, stimulating debate and an overall expansion of my knowledge of urban and regional policy. What I did not expect was the many ways in which engaging with Northeastern University would have ripple effects in so many other areas of my life for the better.
An event that encapsulates a portion of my experience rather well occurred within just a few months of my first semester. For my “Economic Development” course with professor Barry Bluestone, my classmates and I were assigned the task of “being” the economic development directors for various communities within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Just a few weeks into the assignment, the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs hosted a networking event where I was able to meet George Durante, a Northeastern alum and economic development director for the city of Brockton. Not long after, a classmate and I took the commuter rail to Brockton and George gave us a tour of the city and explained his work firsthand. George showed us around the three-square blocks he has been entrusted with as part of the Transformative Development Initiative. He explained the hurdles to development, the needs he has heard from the community and the resources he has available. In the space of two short hours, I got to see firsthand what can be done when vision meets practice and how the knowledge and skills I am gaining at Northeastern University could potentially be used to transform a community.
That day is just one of many exciting instances I have had since beginning this program, instances of coming alongside practitioners in the field and gaining an up-close look at the sorts of careers I desire to dive into. Through relationships I have established at Northeastern, I have met with economic development directors, community leaders, city planners, nonprofit directors, and so many others that play important roles in building our cities and have taken the time to impart their wisdom and experiences.
Since that 14-hour drive from Charleston to Boston nearly one year ago, I have completed the majority of my coursework and have had several opportunities to attend conferences and seminars around the issues I find most compelling, including transit, affordable housing and smart growth.
I now work as a research assistant for the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy where our work centers around workforce development, housing and so many other key components of life in Boston and the Commonwealth. Most recently, I have assisted in organizing the Myra Kraft Open Classroom where we have discussed the Boston 2030 plan and a myriad of creative and resourceful ways to move our city forward.
It has been nearly a year since I traded my flip flops for duck boots and each day has presented new challenges and opportunities that have enhanced my goals and equipped me to be an agent of change in a vibrant and dynamic city.
Victoria Meléndez is a student in the MS in Urban and Regional Policy Program at the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs with a concentration in housing and community development. She works as a research assistant for the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.
October 16, 2018: Come learn about careers in #publicservice and #policy that involve impactful #civicengagement. Four distinguished #Northeastern alumni will speak about their current careers and share valuable insights. Register today: ow.ly/JLTu30lR76y