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Alumni Profile: Sharon Tepper (MUP ’98)

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Name: Sharon Tepper

Hometown: Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

Current City: Brooklyn, NY

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

I worked in Loss Control at Chubb & Son Insurance, assessing property and liability risk exposure of commercial, industrial, and institutional clients in New York City.  Through this experience, I developed an intimate knowledge of and fascination with industry clusters and neighborhood development throughout the five boroughs.

Why did you decide to pursue planning as a career?

I had always been interested in how the environment affected human behavior and social systems, having majored in Environment Psychology as an undergraduate at Cornell.  At Chubb, I traversed New York City, running around offices, paint brush factories, rectories, printers, schools, SRO's, even a chocolate-covered cherry factory.  I developed a keen interest in the neighborhoods, interdependencies, and transportation systems that kept these businesses and communities alive. I was particularly interested in where people work, and their commuting patterns as well.

What made you decide to come to the GSD?

The design-based program was appealing to me, with the opportunity to take classes in any school at Harvard.  While at the GSD, I took classes at the School of Public Health, Harvard Business School, and Harvard College.

What is your current position?

I am working as Director of Placements for Care Tango, a nanny referral agency, that is a part of the National Domestic Workers' Alliance, a domestic workers advocacy group. I shifted from my planning career when I had kids to be able to balance spending time with my family with the challenges of work.

What areas in planning interest you the most?

Transportation Planning, Economic Development, Adaptive Re-use. And regional planning, of course!

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?

I started working with an architecture firm as a planner doing facilities planning and strategy. Office space was not the right scale for me, and I subsequently went on to work for various public agencies at the state and city level in Newark, New Jersey and New York City, doing economic and cultural development as well as real estate and transportation oriented development.  I left the traditional planning field because, as a new parent, it did not afford me the flexibility I needed to care for my family at the time. I started my own business, which gave me the ability to better balance work and family demands.  I have also been very involved with my community through non-profit board work.  My GSD education prepared me for both roles (as an employee and an entrepreneur) by training me to look at design as well as economic forces that shape decisions, on an individual and collective basis.

What experiences at Harvard do you look back on as having been most helpful in your career (these can be seen broadly as courses, student activities, events, etc)?

The opportunity to study in a small department, with a close-knit cohort of fellow students. Also, through several of my studio experiences, the opportunity to approach a design challenge with a multi-disciplinary group developed my ability to be adaptable and to collaborate.

In addition, Christopher Lydon, a WBUR talk-show host, came to speak at the GSD while I was there. (I invited him through HUPO, and he came!)  What he told us budding planners then was, to make change, we should run for public office, specifically, Mayor.  Although I never did that (nor do I intend to!), I have learned to understand the important role politics and the media play in determining urban form and making change.

What advice do you have for new planners?

There are so many places for planner to work. New graduates are well-trained for, and can be effective in, many fields beyond traditional planning for a public agency, including non-profits, advocacy groups, educational institutions. Please use our MUP network…we are all happy to help however we can!