Name: Laura O’Connor
Hometown: Burlington, Vermont
Undergraduate school/major: Urban Studies, Vassar College
What was your work experience/background before coming to the GSD?
I worked for a land trust (Save the Redwoods League) in San Francisco, California for four years doing real estate project management, land management and planning, and projects to increase access to state parks. I continue to work as a consultant for them. Before that, I interned for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater’s environmental advocacy program.
Why did you decide to pursue planning as a career?
I've always been really interested in the built environment but didn't realize I could actually study it in school until I was already in college.
What made you decide to come to the GSD?
It was hard for me to decide to move across the county for school, but I connected with both students and faculty at the open house. It just felt right.
What are your main interests in planning and concentration area?
Transportation planning and environmental planning.
How has your impression changed since coming to the GSD?
I came to Harvard a bit skeptical about the design focus of the program and sometimes had to fight to motivate myself through the tougher moments of studio, since I don’t consider myself a designer. I have been surprised at how many doors a basic understanding of design software has opened for me professionally so far and how it has transformed my planning thinking.
What has been your favorite class or project? Why?
Planning and Environmental Law has been the most useful course I’ve taken. The crash course in legal issues and zoning was a huge help in studio first semester.
What did you do over the summer? How did that add to your education and goals?
This summer, I was awarded one of the GSD’s Community Service Fellowships to fund my work for the City of Cambridge Community Development Department. I worked as part of the Environment and Transportation division on the Hubway bike share launch -- everything from permitting to regional coordination meetings and promotion events. I’ve also had the opportunity to dive into some great research projects: I prepared a 40+ page application for the city to be acknowledged for its biking improvements, am spearheading an update of the Bike Plan, and am drafting white papers on best practices. It has been a great pivot point from my background in environmental planning to sustainable infrastructure planning. I love the sustainability synergy that Cambridge has created by housing its environmental and transportation programs in one place.
What are your career ambitions?
Sustainability planning and transportation planning.
As much as there is to do at the GSD, one of the great things about attending Harvard is that there’s so much going on outside of the walls of the school! I’ve made an effort to stay connected to groups and activities outside of the GSD and that has been really valuable to me. This goes for classes outside of the GSD, as well as for opportunities to work off campus, and for arts, culture, and social activities outside of school. It’s been really great for me to stay connected to my church social justice programs as an outlet from school.