Alumni Profile: Holly Masek (MUP ’13)


Name: Holly Masek

Hometown: Nashua, NH

Current City: Boston, MA

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

I earned a BA in human geography from Boston University, then spent several years after college working in sustainable tourism in Belize.

Why did you decide to pursue planning as a career?

I was always an amateur student of cities and city building, and I wanted to understand why some cities worked, why some didn’t, why American cities were so different (car-centric) than many other places in the world, and what planners could do to make cities better.

What made you decide to come to the GSD?

I wanted to be exposed to design. I’ll never be a designer myself, but I do believe cities can and should be both functional and beautiful for the people who live in them. The opportunity to cross-register with MIT and other Harvard schools was also very appealing.

What is your current position?

Project Analyst, Biederman Redevelopment Ventures

Can you summarize the path you have taken since graduation that has led to your current position and how the GSD prepared you for it?

While at the GSD, I won a Community Service Fellowship Grant to complete a summer internship at the Boston Redevelopment Authority. After graduating, the BRA hired me in a communications role. In that position, I had great exposure across BRA departments and City Hall. A connection that I made while in that job recommended me to my current employer.

The GSD does an excellent job of preparing students to understand both public and private perspectives on planning, and I have felt very comfortable switching back and forth between sectors.

What experiences at Harvard do you look back on as having been most helpful in your career?

I thought the Negotiation Workshop at Harvard Law was incredibly valuable, for the skills, the content, and opportunity to face soon-to-be lawyers. I have it on my resume, and it always comes up on interviews.

Generally speaking, be brave, and take classes outside of your comfort zone. This is a great time to try something new, and fail miserably if need be. If you are a designer, take a real estate class, and vice versa. You’ll feel that much more capable in your career if you have a bit of insight into the other parts of the process.

What advice do you have for new planners?
a. Develop a polished 20-second explanation of what planning is and what you as a planner do. Surprisingly few people in the world are familiar with our field.
b. Have a positive attitude, introduce yourself to everyone, and always offer to help. Those who have reputations as friendly, “go-to” people will be asked to work on the most interesting teams and projects.
c. Don’t rely on email. Phone calls and face-to-face meetings will get you much further.
d. If you are a career changer, don’t erase your previous identity. Try to make use of those skills where you can.