Name Christine Hwang
Hometown Madison, Alabama
Undergraduate school/major University of Michigan/Political Science & Mathematics
What was your work experience/background before coming to the GSD?
As an undergraduate, I worked as a State of Michigan Cool Cities Fellow at Eastern Market Corporation in Detroit. I conducted research for the AM Market Fresh Farm Stands Project to determine which areas of the city had the most need for fresh food availability and how to best address that need. Additionally, I was involved in the Prison Creative Arts Project, an amazing organization that facilitates arts workshops in prisons and juvenile centers. After I graduated, I worked for a year at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, an advocacy organization that strives to end homelessness in America.
Why did you decide to pursue planning as a career?
I fell in love with Detroit when I visited the city as a freshman at the University of Michigan. Starkly different from where I grew up in Alabama, I was fascinated by the urban layout as well as the complex history that resonates on its streets and old buildings. Eventually, I developed a personal passion for urban issues such as education equality, the effects of incarceration on neighborhoods, and healthcare and food accessibility.
When choosing a career path, I debated whether social work, academia, or urban planning would both be best suited towards my skill set and best able to address issues I care about. Ultimately, I decided on urban planning. Although in many ways the most risky approach because of its far-reaching results, it has the ability to make the greatest direct impact on cities.
What made you decide to come to the GSD?
I decided to come to the GSD because it presents the greatest challenge to how I think in two very important ways: First, my prior experience and education has been very community-based and quantitative, which has been greatly beneficial to how I look at cities. However, the GSD challenges me to also look at the design and more qualitative aspects of urban planning. Second, I have a tendency to love the academic and the theoretical, which is important, but the GSD challenges to reach beyond that realm and act to create tangible, effective solutions for cities.
What are your main interests in planning and concentration area?
I selected the Housing and Neighborhood Development concentration area. Specifically, I was motivated to study and work in post-industrial cities.
What was your impression of Harvard and the GSD before you came?
I was particularly interested in the GSD as an anomaly in the Harvard University system; albeit, I was also wary because I feared that the GSD would be too confined within the Design School given that Harvard has only fairly recently made efforts to move towards a more interdisciplinary system. I would say I liked Harvard, especially since its campus is fairly integrated with Cambridge, creating a vibrant atmosphere.
How has your impression changed since coming to the GSD?
My attitude towards the set-up and educational philosophy of the GSD and Harvard University has changed. I really enjoyed being in the Design School and even the challenge of it as someone who only has an “amateur” or “hobbyist” art background.
I want to note that I love the community that the physical structure of the trays creates. The people in the Master in Urban Planning program are not only interesting, talented people who are great to work with; they’ve also become some of my best friends. You get to know each other REALLY WELL and it’s wonderful.
What has been the most surprising aspect of the GSD?
The studio was less structured than I expected, meaning that I both had greater creative freedom and a need for personal initiative.
What has been your favorite class or project? Why?
I really enjoyed Visual and Spatial Representation. In this class, I learned how to represent data, ideas, emotions, and diagrams in incredibly effective ways. The professors were both brilliant and accessible.
What are your career ambitions?
My dream is to return to Detroit, Michigan. I would love to work on urban farming and sustainability projects as well as projects that improve neighborhood environments and school systems.