MEET TARA HEIDGER (MUPD ’16)
- B.S. Criminal Justice, Columbia Southern University
- Master of Urban Planning and Development, Cleveland State University
- Currently Pursuing: Master’s in International Urban Policy, Columbia University
Where are you currently residing?
New York, New York
Where are you from?
Why did you decide to attend Levin?
My decision to attend Cleveland State came following my discharge from the U.S. Army. I knew I still wanted to serve and impact my community. When looking for graduate degrees in the Cleveland area, I came across urban planning. This was a new concept for me – I’d spent all my life living in rural areas or on military bases. With a little reading, I quickly realized the impact urban planning can have on people. From zoning policies to affordable housing to economic development and opportunity, urban planning touches so many facets of people’s lives.
How did your experience at Levin influence your career path?
My time at Levin was a complete eye-opener. It was my first experience with economics and statistics, and it was also my first experience discussing the history of urban policies that directly relate to race, class, and the barriers to opportunity that are still prevalent in today’s cities.
For me, Levin was also a launch point. It was at Levin that the world of urban planning came sharply into focus for me. Prior to attending CSU, I had spent quite a few years in developing nations. I knew that in today’s rapidly urbanizing world, I could take the principles of urban planning and apply them elsewhere. Upon graduating from Levin, my family moved to New York City for my husband's job in banking. With the move came my decision to continue looking at urban planning - but from an international perspective. I am now at Columbia University studying urban planning/rural settlement planning in a post-conflict context in East Africa. I traveled to Rwanda in January and will hopefully head back this summer with a fellowship from the Earth Institute, where I will be studying the role urban planning plays in sustainable peace.
What's your favorite Levin memory?
As difficult as the class was at the time, I really enjoyed Professor Simon’s class on real estate development. I still find myself reflecting back on some of the guest speakers as well as the hard skills I took away from his class.
I also really enjoyed Professor Bowen’s class the Evolution of Human Settlements. It was during those discussions that the program touched the international planning world. We were able to have incredible dialogue and debate as well, and many of those conversations are lasting in my mind.
What piece of advice do you have for current Levin graduate students?
Graduate school can seem overwhelming, but where else can you go to discuss the problems and issues that you are concerned about? Looking back, I wish I wouldn't have worried so much about the grades, but had spent more time really absorbing the readings and thinking critically about the discussions we were having. I think undergraduate school experiences are the place to "perform," whereas graduate school is a place to network and absorb.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned at Levin?
I learned that urban planning isn't just some office in the local government bureaucracy. It's really a tool that has a lot of power when used properly and ethically.
What inspires you about Northeast Ohio? Why?
When I think back to my three years in Cleveland I always smile. It is such a vibrant city and when I would walk from campus to the downtown Heinen's, I always felt that everyone walked with a sense of pride. The city itself is beautiful, and the people there are so incredibly passionate about always making it better.
In your opinion, what’s Northeast Ohio’s best-kept secret?
First, Dave's Cosmic Subs. I think about that place all the time, and what I wouldn't give for one to open in NYC. More seriously, I spent many hours and days running and riding through the Metroparks on the East Side. I think that what they offer to the community is spectacular.
What’s one thing someone would be surprised to learn about you?
Most people are surprised when I tell them I have three small children while in a dual graduate degree program at Columbia. I'm not sure if they think I am crazy, or if they think I look much younger than I actually am (hopefully it is the latter).
What issues are you passionate about/what inspires you?
I am passionate about people. Joining the military did more than allow me to serve, it opened me up to new places, ideas, people and backgrounds. I think it led me to being more compassionate and respectful of where people come from and the different perspectives they bring to the table. I am constantly in awe and inspired by people who are able to push through significant adversity with a smile on their face.
Who’s your hero and why?
I have a hard time with this question. There are incredible people around the world, and I believe true heroes are the people who are forced to make lifesaving decisions every day without anyone ever knowing their names. They are the most deserving of the title.