Katrina Nygaard, AB '13
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your current role?
I am a planner with Stantec, first in St. Paul, MN and now in Seattle, WA. Stantec is a for-profit civil engineering consulting firm. We work with (typically) government clients to do research, policy analysis, plan development, and community engagement. I enjoy doing the technical side of planning and working to build capacity with our clients. Despite being a life-long city girl, I have really enjoyed working with our rural clients on planning and economic development projects.
What you have been doing since graduation?
Since graduating UChicago in 2013, I attended the University of Minnesota where I completed a Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning and a Certificate in Metropolitan Design.
During my time in graduate school, I had an internship with Stantec’s community development department, working alongside planners, landscape architects, and water resource engineers. After I graduated, I was hired on full time. I was first introduced to brownfield redevelopment planning at Stantec. Funded by the US EPA, brownfield redevelopment planning helps communities identify polluted sites and develops strategies and an action plan for redevelopment. I now spend about half of my time working with environmental scientists to implement these EPA grants.
How PGE has helped you in your career?
In the spring of my second year at UChicago, I was able to participate in PGE’s Calumet Quarter. We worked with instructors and local community groups to conduct research projects in the Calumet Region of South Chicago/NW Indiana.
Our class was on a tour with a local environmental justice advocacy group where we visited a series of toxic sites (old landfills, factories and refineries) as well as the nearby residential neighborhoods. One community we visited is Altgeld Gardens, a Chicago Public Housing project. Altgeld Gardens is surrounded on basically all four sides by landfills, the polluted Calumet River and other toxic sites.
That moment stuck with me. I remember thinking over and over: “this was not an accident. Microeconomics and land values alone can’t explain why the most racially and economically marginalized people live next to the most toxic neighbors. Someone made this decision”. I later learned that ‘someone’ is urban planners. From that time on, I learned as much as I could about how to be the decision maker working to undo these kinds of environmental injustices.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love riding my bike and exploring new neighborhoods. I also play violin in a community orchestra.
What advice would you give undergraduate students interested in Environmental/Sustainability fields?
Leave the walls of UChicago and get out into the community. Volunteer, explore, take the CTA, and learn all you can about the city around you. Chicago is an amazing and challenging place filled with a rich social and environmental history.
Anything you would like to add?
Thanks for the opportunity to share, I would be happy to talk with any current students/alumni interested in a career in urban planning!