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Name: Oscar Quintanilla

Program: MUP 2013

Hometown: Nicaragua

Undergraduate school/major: Universidad Centroamericana (Nicaragua) / Applied Economics

What was your work experience/background before coming to the GSD?

Before coming to the GSD I worked for Oxfam with projects about citizenship and local governance.  After graduating from college I worked two years for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Nicaragua, in the Population and Development area and in Program Monitoring and Evaluation.

Why did you decide to pursue planning as a career?

While studying economics I became interested in the interrelation between population, public policies and the environment. I am absorbed by the complexity of how the pieces that make a city come together and I wanted a professional degree that helped me understand this. The future of developing countries is in their cities, and their abilities to both face growing urban challenges and build upon the advantages that agglomerations can bring to a society.

What made you decide to come to the GSD?

After looking at several planning programs, the GSD offered two things that made me decide it was my first option. The design and studio experience available and the access to other graduate schools in Harvard, where you can find specialized courses in almost anything you can think of. I also liked the philosophy of the program, stressing the importance of the physical effects of public policies and how that plays into the results and consequences of policy decisions.

What are your main interests in planning and concentration area?

My main interest is in the opportunity cities offer for developing countries to both provide better quality of life and improve chances of competing in a global economy. I am interested in politics, economics, social development, neighborhoods and the built environment that keeps them all together. My concentration area is Transportation and Infrastructure, with complementing courses in International Planning and Regional Economic Development.

Are you involved in any student groups? What have you gained from the experience?

I am currently co-President of the Harvard Urban Planning Organization (HUPO). Our student group is active in making the academic experience more rewarding. We are organizing lectures, creating networking opportunities, encouraging a collaborative engagement with the community and working closely with the Master in Urban Planning program.

Are you writing a thesis? What is your topic and why did you choose it?

I am performing research about Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. In 1972 a major earthquake destroyed the city and since then, planning decisions, inadequate institutional framework, population dynamics and national policies have been involved in many of our pressing problems. I want to use this opportunity to build a theoretical framework that connects disaster response to long term planning and also learn from the past to find solutions and planning alternatives to Managua’s current problems.

What did you do over the summer? How did that add to your education and goals?

This summer I worked for the Transportation Department of Boston Public Schools. It was an exciting opportunity, working on the development of a request for proposals document to contract a transportation management company and also on the use of existing data for improving performance management practices. The level of details and thought behind these decisions has helped me appreciate how everything works together in order to keep cities competitive and running.  It helped me recognize the links between planning and social development and provided a challenging experience to put what I learned on my first year at the GSD into practice.

What are your career ambitions?

After graduating from Harvard I would like to pursue a career in research. Although having a theoretical framework is important to guide analysis and decision making, every city has particularities that require new research and knowledge.  I am hoping to return to my country and inform urban policies through research or continue my graduate education with a PhD in Urban Planning to pursue independent study and expand my research skills.

Anything else?

I was able to pursue graduate education thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship from the US Government and support from Harvard. The MUP program is more than just studying. Harvard provides endless opportunities of lectures, academic resources, and networking. The program also benefits of being located in Cambridge. As a student, living in a walkable and exciting city is part of this great experience. Finally, the GSD attracts an impressive cohort of students with which you can experience a collaborative learning environment. Because everyone comes from different background, skills and interests, you can always find someone willing to help with precisely the skill you need. 

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