Name Alison Tramba
Hometown Cleveland, Ohio
Undergraduate school/major University of Virginia/Systems Engineering and American Studies
What was your work experience/background before coming to the GSD?
After college, I spent a year and a half in management consulting in Boston before taking a leave of absence to work with an NGO focused on business development in Swaziland. I returned to consulting for two more years and was able to spend time on projects in Australia and South Africa. In the six months leading up to graduate school, I worked with friends from college to start a small farm in Virginia.
Why did you decide to pursue planning as a career?
I have always been interested in the role of public space and quality housing in promoting the development of healthy communities. When I considered careers that could have a positive social impact, urban planning made sense. I appreciate the blend of tangible and policy-related practices involved in the field.
What made you decide to come to the GSD?
The people, the studio culture, and the breadth of opportunities available at the GSD made my decision simple. I was impressed by the broad range of paths that GSD students pursue during and after school, and was also excited about the faculty engagement with students that I experienced when I visited. The collaborative nature of the studio creates a dynamic working environment that very much appealed to me—and has been one of the best parts of my graduate school experience.
What are your main interests in planning and concentration area?
My primary focus academically is on housing and community development as they relate to both domestic and international contexts. I am interested in small-scale projects that can improve health and economic conditions in urban slums, but also wish to find solutions to housing related challenges in the United States in order to promote safe, stable neighborhoods with strong social fabric.
What was your impression of Harvard and the GSD before you came?
Architects. Architects everywhere, with a few planners scattered around and potentially poorly represented within the school.
How has your impression changed since coming to the GSD?
I still see architects everywhere, but I also recognize the balance that the planning program provides within the GSD. Our class size may be smaller, but we have a lot of resources available to us, and we are uniquely positioned to strengthen our design skills because of the company that we keep in Gund Hall. We can opt to enroll in interdisciplinary studios and courses; in many such cases, we offer a valuable perspective and also grow from engaging with a range of theory and design focused classmates.
Are you involved in any student groups? What have you gained from the experience?
One of my goals during my time at Harvard is to take advantage of the incredible range of opportunities outside of the GSD. I recently co-managed a panel on sustainable city design for the Harvard Business School/Kennedy School of Government Social Enterprise Conference. While the topic was slightly tangential to the type of discussion typically included at the conference, it sparked a lot of questions on the role of physical design in economic development and social impact. I aim to continue to find ways that GSD students can connect with other Harvard graduate students in academic and extracurricular forums.
What are your career ambitions?
I thought I had a clear career plan when I arrived at the GSD, but each course, guest speaker, and project that I have been exposed to this year has pulled me in a new direction. Ideally, I will work in a capacity that allows me to explore both domestic and international projects in affordable housing. A role with a community development corporation or a development agency similarly involved with local residents would give me the opportunity to build relationships and strive to improve the physical, economic, and social characteristics of neighborhoods.
Gund Hall is a great space, and having a desk alongside my classmates there makes for a very pleasant working experience. The energy in the building (at all hours of night sometimes!) is contagious and strengthens the sense of community within and among classes.