When I finished my geography degree at Otago, I'd like to say I knew exactly what I wanted to do, but the truth is I was drawn to planning because I literally had no idea what to do and my friends were doing it. It ended up being a hugely fun, hilarious and rewarding two years that has given me incredibly useful and transferable skills but more importantly a wide network of professional links and countless great mates. The course also gave me the opportunity to travel around Southeast Asia and India for 2 months while researching my thesis topic, a true once in a lifetime chance that wouldn't have been possible without MPlan and the School of Geography. Of course, it's a challenging two years; whether you're juggling coursework, halfway through your thesis literature review, or interviewing small business owners in the 40 degree Indian sun - but every opportunity you get in MPlan gives you skills that are not only sought after in New Zealand but around the world.
While completing my thesis I was fortunate enough to be able to work on the development of Dunedin's 2nd Generation Plan with a fantastic bunch of people at the Dunedin City Council and I continued there after finishing my thesis, making great friends and great connections while helping to shape the future of my home town. After graduating in August last year, I moved to the UK in search of a different challenge. Now, thanks to the skills that the MPlan course taught me and the confidence it gave me, I work at Westminster City Council as a Planning Officer. I am lucky enough to be working in one of the most exciting places in London, dealing with occasional applications at the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace and large scale redevelopment in one of Europe's wealthiest suburbs. I am out site visiting on a daily basis in some of the most iconic places in the world, a real dream job that is only possible because of the work I put in and the skills I picked up during my time at Otago.
Ko Tokatoka te maunga
Ko Kaipara te moana
Ko Arapaoa te awa
Ko Waihaua te marae
Ko Kirihipi te whare
Ko Mahuhu ki te rangi te waka
Ko Te Uri O Hau te hapu
Ko Ngati Whatua te iwi
I began the Masters of Planning programme in 2010, after a year as a VSA UniVol volunteer in Vanuatu. I enjoyed the mixed-style of the course in the first year, learning the theory in class and then being able to undertake practical tasks out of the class room, field trips, research, and interviews. My experience from Vanuatu and the courses I undertook in the first year of the planning programme helped me to decide on a thesis topic. My thesis looked at Natural Hazard Planning in the Cook Islands and how the Cook Islands plan for cyclones and storms.
Thanks to the skills I gained and the support from the Planning programme staff, I am now employed by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment as a Research Assistant/Administration support. I assist with research investigations the Commissioner undertakes, but also engage in public queries and other research/administration tasks. Everyday at work I apply the skills I learnt from the Planning programme and having that qualification behind me definitely helped me land this amazing role!
If you are looking for a multi-disciplinary course with a mixed theoretical and practical learning style, I encourage you to apply for the Planning programme. The staff are supportive, the resources are great and you will make great friends with your class!
Whāia te iti kahurangi, ki te tuahu koe me he maunga teitei
For my undergraduate degree I completed a Bachelor of Science in Geography and Ecology at the University of Otago. In final year of this degree, the opportunity arose through the School of Geography to go overseas for a year with Volunteer Services Abroad (VSA). I spent a year living and working in Vanuatu. This experience, working in a culture different to my own, gave me a new perspective about people and their interactions with the environment. With this new inspiration, I was eager to come back to the University of Otago to study planning, and also take a development-focused paper.
The first year gave a great introduction to planning. It was a challenging year, and as a result was hugely rewarding! We had field trips to Brisbane, Christchurch, and around the Otago region, and had a lot of interaction with professionals in the industry! I have found practical nature of the course highly beneficial – grasping concepts that I know I will use in whatever planning related field I work in. I have been able to stay involved with VSA, as well as join the New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI), and a highlight of that was attending the NZPI Conference in Blenheim this year.
One of the great things about this course was getting to choose my thesis topic for the second year of the degree. I have used my experience in Vanuatu as the basis for my thesis, and my topic is: Making a living in Vanuatu: Development and Livelihoods in Peri-Urban Communities. Hopefully I'll get to work in the planning and development industries in my future career!
I came to Otago to study planning on a bit of a whim from the UK after hitting a career ceiling in my previous role. I had no expectations and only one book on New Zealand Planning but found the people warm and welcoming, the subject fascinating and the skills taught unendingly useful. Since leaving Otago I returned to the UK in one of the worst recessions in living memory but with the skills I gained I landed a job working as a research and projects coordinator for a marine environmental consultancy (Soi Ltd) based out of the University of St Andrews, Scotland.
The MPlan at Otago gave me a different approach of seeing the way we work and live, it prepared me to deal with and not be afraid of the type large scale reports/documentation I now often deal with and coming from the UK to New Zealand the MPlan allowed me to broaden my understanding and respect of cultural inclusion within New Zealand that is simply not apparent in the UK planning/policy systems.
The MPlan will give you the skills to work within and outside of the planning systems both in New Zealand and internationally. The only thing holding you back is your own ambition!
I completed a tourism degree here in Otago and have been working in the tourism industry in Papua New Guinea (PNG) ever since. The last five years I have spent working in the Policy and Planning Division of the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority. I was interested in Planning as there were issues with the development and implementation of plans that I did not understand with my tourism background. I was keen on familiarity and finding that Otago had a Planning course and that it was highly regarded was ideal. The mix of having the opportunity to be introduced into the planning field in the first year whilst working on a thesis in the second year was a perfect fit for me.
Having worked and coming back into studies I was apprehensive about being back in the classroom also as an International student. However the small classes and the camaraderie that came with that put all those fears away. I also enjoyed the field trips and the annual hui's. Having not done geography before this course has opened my eyes into planning areas such as environmental sustainability in design, urban planning and transport planning that I would not have normally known about.
I decided to enrol in the MPlan programme after spending a year doing development work in Cambodia as a UniVol through VSA. I felt there were lots of opportunities to make the world a 'better place', but I needed a concrete skill set through which to make a meaningful contribution. I saw the programme as a step towards the type of community building and engagement I wanted to be involved with, and since finishing have spent the last two years working as a Community Development Planner in Southland.
As a Community Planner my work included working 'top down' with local council bodies and 'bottom up' with local community and stakeholder groups. At a strategic level I assisted to develop concept plans for rural communities. Workshops, surveys and key stakeholder interviews built a picture of the type of communities people wanted: the things they valued about their local areas and wished to retain, and the key assets they felt were missing and sought to develop. My role was to use a collaborative approach to gather this information, process it and present it as a 5 – 8 year plan that could help guide the community, funders, and other stakeholders, into the future.
The grassroots aspect of the role involved initiating community projects and development at a local level. I helped establish local groups, as well as supporting them to run smoothly and effectively - providing facilitation, and mediation, where required. I assisted with project proposals and project planning, collaboration between groups within a community, working with the local council and community boards, and assisting with applying for funding to enable projects to go ahead.
The Community Development team's job was also to ensure regional and national opportunities were made available for local communities. We advocated for rural Southland communities at local and regional councils, and influenced national changes. This involved submitting to proposed Act changes and funding allocations, attending council meetings and finance committees to speak on behalf of our regions, and preparing proposals and applications for regional schemes or opportunities.
The MPlan course helped broaden my perspective on the places we live in – both rural and urban, and both theoretical and practical. It gave me a good understanding of the Acts and regulatory bodies that govern our places. Knowledge such as what makes for good consultation, being able to write an orderly report, and being able to explain to new Community Board Members the role of local government, have all come in useful. Undertaking the course helped demonstrate to prospective employers that I had a good grounding in planning, could work on large projects, work in a team, work professionally, and has enabled me to access the field I'm interested in.
You work closely with others on the course and make lifelong friends. Seeing all the different activities people are up to now, from working with DOC on species management, to helping with the Christchurch rebuild, or planning logistics in the Congo – I can confidently say the MPlan course, and the skills and qualification you obtain, is an unbeatable passport into a huge range of fields.