Student Q&A: Courtney Sharpe (MUP ’16)

Courtney SharpeHometown

Washington, DC | League City, TX

Undergraduate school/major

Northwestern University | International Studies, Religion, Asian American Studies

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

After undergrad I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural, desert village in Morocco as a Youth Development Volunteer. When I returned to the States I moved to Chicago where I worked as a Civic Engagement Coordinator for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights through AmeriCorps. During my time with AmeriCorps I also had a six month business fellowship with PresenTense through which I studied the city’s food deserts  and created a business plan to address the residents’ negative health impacts resulting from lack of convenient access to nutritious food. I was also involved with Lakeview Action Coalition (now ONE) as a member of the Health Care Task Force.

After my fellowships ended I moved to Washington, DC and began working for the US General Services Administration as an Executive Assistant to the Chief Financial Officer.
Why did you decide to pursue planning as a career?

My work in Chicago, primarily through my study of food deserts and in assisting people applying for charity care relief for hospital bills, inspired me to pursue a career that would enable me to influence underlying systems of inequality and ineffectiveness for the public benefit.
What made you decide to come to the GSD?

I wanted to come to the GSD because I wanted to acquire hard skills. Being able to communicate better visually has always been appealing to me.

What was your impression of Harvard and the GSD before you came?

I was intimidated by the GSD. Everyone seemed so cool and kind of cold. I wasn’t sure I would fit in.

How has your impression changed since coming to the GSD?

People here are nice! I love my classmates, I sing their praises on a daily basis and to anyone who asks! It is truly a supportive and collaborative learning environment. I feel so lucky to be a part of this community.

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

I was elected Vice President of Alumni Relations for the GSD Student Forum, I am co-chairing the first Black in Design Conference, and I am a member of the Harvard Graduate Student Leadership Institute (HGLSI).

It is a great privilege to work with Student Forum to help provide more opportunities for planners and generally facilitate interaction between current students and alumni.

Planning for the Black in Design Conference has been a great challenge and also a really fun opportunity. It has brought me closer to students in other schools, to program alumni, and is allowing me to meet and interact with a wide variety of people. I am super excited for the event in the fall!

Harvard Graduate Student Leadership Institute (HGSLI) is an incredible opportunity that I encourage everyone to apply for. It brings together 30 students from across all the Harvard Graduate Schools each semester to learn from each other and become a support system as we develop in our leadership. We also have incredible guests avail themselves to us each session offering up personal stories and answering questions. One of the highlights this semester was meeting Ophelia Dahl, one of the co-founders of Partners in Health and the daughter of Roald Dahl.

What has been the most surprising aspect of the GSD?

I love how diverse the Urban Planning student body is. The international students come from a mix of countries, the American students are of a variety of ethnic backgrounds, and there is also diversity in family income levels and sexual orientation. In an unexpected twist of fate, I have found my time spent at Harvard, both in the GSD and in the greater community, to have exposed me to the most diverse community I have ever been a part of. I love it!

What has been your favorite class or project? Why?

My favorite class has been History and Theory of Urban Intervention. I loved it because our professor, encouraged us to really be ourselves and delve into the material in writing response papers. I never felt so supported in academia to present myself honestly and research areas of interest to me that were also timely. For my final research paper for the class I wrote about the Black Lives Matter movement and was able to incorporate pictures I had taken at marches and rallies as a part of the Harvard community and at events in Boston.

What are your career ambitions?

In my dream future I will be a politician who writes novels, or a novelist who also dabbles in politics. I’ll be happy with either combination.