More than 200 Indiana high schoolers are learning about community planning through the My Community, My Vision program, now in its third year.
Indiana communities apply for selection each fall with five to six being selected to participate. High school students, their school mentors, and a local official/stakeholder or two work together to create strategic plans. They are mentored through the process by Ball State students in the Department of Urban Planning under the direction of Bruce Frankel.
The initiative was begun by the lieutenant governor’s office and is supported by a $55,000 grant. Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority oversees the entire affair and provides $500 stipends to each selected community to assist with plan implementation.
Eleven Indiana communities have completed plans through the program. This year, five competitive proposals were selected for the program. Those came from schools in Crawfordsville, Greenfield, Fort Wayne, Shelbyville, and Greensburg. Three graduate students in the MURP program, Brandon Kendera, Tiffany Gehrke, and Emily Hepworth, and two undergraduates in the BUPD program, Megan Clevenger and Jade Broadnax, were chosen to mentor community teams.
“What planning students don’t readily recognize is that the role of the planner is a teacher,” Frankel said. “They should educate communities in their pursuit of the public interest. What high school students don’t readily recognize is that they can stop being children and begin being adults by assuming a leadership role in civic affairs. This is an adult swim for both the mentors and the students.”
Graduate student Abigail Overton, bachelor of urban planning and development, ’16, master of urban planning, ’17, works for IHCDA and helps coordinate efforts under the supervision of Carmen Lethig, MURP ’07, placemaking manager.
“It has been exciting working with Ms. Lethig and IHCDA who advocate for and believe that each of these communities has the potential to become even greater with assets they have an abundance of—their own high school students,” Overton reflects.
The Ball State mentors are enthusiastic about working with the high school students.
“It feels like I am the adult in those Disney Channel clips of kids around the country saying ‘You can do anything you put your mind to! Get up and change the world!’” says Jade Broadnax, BUPD ‘17. “Suddenly I'm the responsible one, and it just proves that my education has been a sound investment.”
“Sometimes it is hard to believe my students are high schoolers,” says Tiffany Gehrke, MURP ’17. “They are so well-spoken, respectful, and focused. It is a pleasure to work with them. They have come up with the initiatives and are passionate about implementing them and what that means to their community.”
Besides benefiting the high school students and their communities, the experience is meaningful to the Ball State mentors as well. They are paid for their work and receive some tuition remission in addition to the experience for their resumes.
“My Community, My Vision is a mutually positive opportunity for us, as mentors, the community working with us, and the state,” says Emily Hepworth, MURP ‘18. “As a first-year master’s student, coming from a non-planning background, an opportunity like this is vital as I go forward to compete for an internship this summer. The opportunity to work closely with Dr. Frankel is also an awesome opportunity as he's a wealth of knowledge in the department.”
Last year, My Community, My Vision was named one of the state’s bicentennial legacy projects. The state hopes the program will result in more young people feeling an attachment to their hometowns and a desire to stay in Indiana as civically engaged adults.
“My Community, My Vision provides our students with real-world experience for their resumes,” said Eric Kelly, chairperson of the Department of Urban Planning, “and we are thrilled to introduce our profession to high school students. It’s a perfect partnership.”
You can see previous years’ strategic plans here: http://in.gov/myihcda/mcmv.htm. For information about how your community can get involved, email IHCDA at firstname.lastname@example.org.