UPD students reflect on joint and concurrent degree programs

Many of the issues that confront communities in the 21st century—global warming, poverty, obesity, and poor health—resist categorization as the concern of a single profession. The fact that architects, urban planners, landscape architects, lawyers, government officials, and many other professionals all make valuable contributions to solving such systemic problems underlies the interest of many individuals in enrolling in a joint or concurrent degree program at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

Students can pursue any two programs at the GSD concurrently. It is also possible to enroll in the Master in Urban Planning program while studying public policy, public administration, or law at another Harvard graduate school. For each of these combinations of degrees, the GSD provides a recommended schedule of studies. Among the many UPD students who are currently on such an academic track are Dana McKinney (MUP/MArch I), Maynard León (MUP/MArch I), and Vineet Diwadkar (MUP/MLA I).

Concurrent and joint degree students are often motivated by a desire to uncover the intersections and synergies between disciplines. Said McKinney, who is studying planning and architecture, “My heart is in design, but I’m interested in how it interacts with urban frameworks.” Specifically, McKinney hopes that combining multiple programs will allow her to promote economic development through housing. She is particularly interested in working in inner-city neighborhoods, for she can trace her concern with urban development back to childhood visits to her grandmother in the troubled city of Newark, New Jersey. 

Joint and concurrent degree programs pose unique challenges to those who are ambitious enough as to undertake them. According to Diwadkar, who is enrolled in both the landscape architecture and planning programs, students sometimes find that their interests “do not fit squarely within either program.” León, an architecture and planning student, adds that the degree programs can have very different viewpoints. Said León, “[t]he idea of the social realm doesn’t really come into play [in architecture like it does in urban planning]. Architecture has more of a focus on geometry, and putting a person in your rendering is sometimes a political act.”

Students agree that these intellectual debates enrich their experiences at the GSD and prepare them well for work outside of the university. Said Leon, “[after studying both planning and architecture,] I’m more able to understand how people interact with the building.” Similarly, Diwadkar believes that planning is central to many conflicts over power and development in the Global South. Understanding the profession is, therefore, critical to his practice of landscape architecture and engagement with social concerns. 

As global issues that demand attention from multiple professions come to the fore in the coming years, the ability of these concurrent and joint degree students to negotiate the differences between multiple professionals will almost certainly be a valuable skill.