The Great DUSP MeetUp: Empowering Alumni-Student Action

The blog of the MIT Department of Urban Studies & Planning Alumni-Student Group

DUSP Spring Town Hall: Summary of Recommendations from small groups

Dear Alumni:

At this spring’s town hall on 4/29/09, we asked the students, faculty and alumni who attended to discuss three key topics in small groups:

·      Key themes you all think are most important for DUSP in 2015
·      Signature skills and competencies of a DUSP graduate in 2015
·      Bold steps needed to align the department with those themes and skills

Below is a summary of the outcomes of those discussions.  They are also posted to plaza, so please log in there if you want to post a comment/reaction.

Leanne (on behalf of the DUSP Student Council)



At this spring’s town hall on 4/29/09, we asked the students and faculty who attended to discuss three key topics in small groups.
• Key themes you all think are most important for DUSP in 2015
• Signature skills and competencies of a DUSP graduate in 2015
• Bold steps needed to align the department with those themes and skills

Here is a summary of the most common recommendations from these small group discussions:


MIT’s Hub For Interdisciplinary Collaboration – If there is one characteristic to describe DUSP in 2015, it is that it is a hub of interdisciplinary collaboration at MIT. The department is a space to:
• Engage in cross-pollination and debate both within DUSP and between DUSP and other departments on campus.
• Exchange knowledge between peers (e.g. between policy, politics, & engineering)
• Host the most diverse faculty and student body on campus (e.g. ideologically, geographically, etc.).

Planning For Social Equity & Justice – DUSP is the primary place on campus where the social consequences of market failure (e.g. social inequity, chronic poverty) are acknowledged, discussed, and addressed (e.g. strategies for poverty alleviation). In particular, numerous projects and coursework are working to change the underlying socioeconomic systems (e.g. the employment structure) that exacerbate the gap between rich and poor. DUSP is a place focused on encouraging economic opportunity and empowerment for all.

Planning For Urban Sustainability – DUSP is also a locus of activity for applying systems thinking to the challenges of urban sustainability. A perennial question focusing this work is, “Given resources are finite, how do we develop equitably while ensuring high qualities of life?” It is the central place on campus working to ensure the resilience and adaptation of cities in the face of climate change.

Planning At Multiple Scales – Among schools of planning, DUSP has distinguished itself by developing research and curriculum that enable all of its planners to work across multiple scales, including at the national and international levels. This includes, by definition, a robust approach to regional level planning.

Creating Entrepreneurial Planners – Finally, DUSP is widely regarded for training some of the most entrepreneurial and visionary practitioners in the field. DUSP alumni have a reputation for being flexible, innovative, and creative. These folks are so able to mold themselves to new circumstances and thrive that it’s said that they were implanted with “plastic brains” while here.


How To Communicate / How To Listen – DUSP students are trained how to communicate effectively make persuasive arguments(oral and written), and create visual representations in every course they take. Modules during the summer, semesters, and IAP go in-depth into particular techniques and tools (e.g. negotiation, grant writing, and the Adobe suite), but students are pushed to apply these in every experience at DUSP. A consistent point emphasized through all of these experiences is not only how to communicate, but also how to listen, empathize, and incorporate the ideas of others involved in a planning process (e.g. a module on facilitating design charrettes).

How To Analyze Problems – DUSP has set a higher bar for students’ understanding of statistics, economics, and qualitative research and analysis. Analytical tools and scientific literacy are now consistently brought to bear in all courses. Systems Analysis is now a core analytical approach that DUSPers graduate understanding and with some basic experience in applying.

How To Lead Planning Through Implementation – Leadership and management skills are now core components of the MCP curriculum. This includes methods of understanding organizations and how to work with them to get plans implemented. This also includes how to work with mechanisms for accountability in planning (e.g. boards, commissions, elected leadership, & others).

How To Tackle Big Problems Through A New Theory of Planning Process – An updated theory of planning process is now utilized by all faculty in the department and students are able to better identify, set, and frame problems because of it. Following this new theory, students learn how to first answer, “What is the right thing to build?” and then how to apply inter-disciplinary skills to answer, “How do we build this?”


DUSP Is Now An Integrated Department – Previous barriers between the program groups have been removed including:
• Courses blend diverse competencies in the department (e.g. through requiring classes address a minimum of 2 subject areas)
• Guest lectures are hosted by the department (i.e. no longer program-group sponsored).
• There are fewer course scheduling conflicts because more are offered in the morning, evening, and on Friday.
• Program groups and degree programs are no longer relegated to separate spaces (e.g. perhaps space is organized according to interdisciplinary research and project focuses).
• Thesis prep is no longer structured by program group, but by the methodology applied to the thesis.
• The department’s virtual presence emphasizes its overlapping work and interests (e.g. through screens in hallway, the website, and a shared database – including alumni access, which can build DUSP institutional memory).

Public Faculty and Student Discussion and Debate are A Regular Feature – There are regular public faculty discussions and debates that explore the shared and diverse assumptions underlying their planning research and practice, the department’s theoretical framework for planning, and the planning field. These could take the form of talks, debates, town halls, dinners, or other forums.

Students Are Provided With Clearer Course Advising – All incoming students are given sample course track guides that are updated annually based upon which faculty are on leave, what courses are being offered, etc. Faculty are given additional incentives and resources to provide course and career guidance to their advisees.

More Modular Skills Courses Are Offered – Modular courses are offered just before the fall semester, during each semester, and during IAP as a formal part of the department’s curriculum. Faculty can recommend or require that students take relevant modules prior to their courses to enable students to focus more on the theory of practice and application of the skills during the semester course.

A Stronger Undergrad Curriculum is Offered – The undergraduate curriculum in DUSP has been redesigned to provide more substantive course offerings, which then attracts more undergraduates from across the Institute to major in Urban Studies & Planning.


Filed under: DUSP 2015

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