Women’s Planning Forum Comes to Rochester

by Tanya Zwahlen

Last night, ten members of the Women’s Planning Forum (WPF) from Cornell University came to Rochester for an informal conversation with six graduates of the Masters in City and Regional Planning (CRP) program who are living and working in the Finger Lakes region.

WPF is an autonomous graduate student organization housed in CRP. It’s purpose is to celebrate women’s contributions to the fields of planning and development; provide a forum for discussions about gender issues; and embrace the full diversity of women. They strive to challenge gender discrimination and promote gender equity in the classroom, university, and society.

It was a great opportunity to get to know current students and reconnect with our extended Cornell network in Rochester. Our distinguished alumni included:

Theo Finn (MRP ’02), Edgemere Development
Elizabeth Murphy (MRP ’06), City of Rochester
Carly Fox (MRP ’06), Worker Justice Center
Sage Gerling (MRP & MLA ’07), City of Geneva
Alisa Medizabel (MRP ’09), Center for Employment Opportunities

​And me. (MRP ’03) 🙂

I studied at Cornell from 2001-2003, and became involved with WPF my first year. One of our professors, Susan Christopherson, would host brunch on the weekend at her farmhouse outside of Ithaca, and we would relax and talk. When former Attorney General Janet Reno, also a Cornell graduate, was the 2001 Senior Convocation speaker during the university’s Commencement, WPF was invited to hold a small audience with her. It was a great community, and it helped me develop strong relationships during my time in Ithaca.

These days, WPF is advocating on behalf of faculty and student diversity; organizing discussions regarding women’s issues, both domestically and internationally, as they relate to planning and urban development; and developing alumni networks for women in the field of planning.​ It’s not in the mission statement, but I’m pretty sure they also hang out, relax and eat brunch too.

Last night, we had some food and mingled, and then settled into a dialogue about the students’ interests, the graduates’ careers, and whether or not gender has been a benefit or hindrance to our professional lives. Sixteen people was the most people I’ve ever had in the conference room. So that, in and of itself, was exciting for me. But I really didn’t anticipate the depth of discussion that would happen once we sat down to talk.

It was a big group, and we don’t know one another well. Still, the discussion was immediately intimate and honest. It was a rich conversation that lasted almost two hours. Afterward, we toured 820 South Clinton and headed down to the Playhouse for some fun.

If it isn’t self-evident, I am proud of my alma mater and our strong network of planners. I haven’t had the opportunity to get to know previous classes the way I have with the 2014-2016 class. I first met them at the 2014 New York Upstate American Planning Association conference in Saratoga Springs. Last February, CRP invited me to participate on an alumni panel, and I talked with many students again. Last night, we had several hours together. Cornell students are always impressive, but this cohort is experienced, smart, and they have big aspirations. I’m excited to see where they go and what they do with their careers.

Big thanks to Jac Hochreiter for reaching out to me and planning the event. She and the other second year students will have moved on, but we hope to plan another event next spring with the next class. We might even institutionalize it and make it an annual event.

And P.S. The men were invited, but they didn’t come. Maybe next year, guys? I hope so.

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