Main Menu

Laura Hanson, AICP (MUP ‘05)

Hometown: Salt Lake City

Current Position, Organization: Director of Planning, Utah Transit Authority

How did you discover urban planning/urban ecology?
I started my college experience out as an Environmental Studies major.  I really wanted to work for a federal land management agency and spend the majority of my time in the field.  However, I started noticing that there were a lot of planning students in my elective classes.  Urban planning sounded awful to me – cars, concrete, pollution – everything that I didn’t want to be associated with.  However, I quickly realized that one of the best ways to preserve and protect natural open spaces was to design better cities.  This realization led me to double major and ultimately pursue a graduate degree in planning.

How did you find your first job after graduating?
I saw an opportunity advertised in the newspaper while I was an undergraduate student. The job was at a local architecture firm making blueprints, watering plants, and other misc. tasks. I figured being in a design environment might put me within proximity of my goal of being a professional planner, so I gave it a shot. While working there, I met an architect whose husband happened to be a landscape architect and planner. She introduced us, which led to my first internship. The internship gave me enough experience to feel confident sharing my resume with consulting firms. Eventually, I got lucky enough to land an interview and job at a firm called Bear West and built experience and a network that has carried me through the rest of my career.

Tell us about your current position, for example, what is your typical day like? or share a recent accomplishment.
I’ve had a great career that has allowed me learn all kinds of new things.  I’m loving working in public transit right now and helping to give Wasatch Front residents more choices in the way they travel. I’ve also had the opportunity to work in land use, policy, and environmental protection and restoration. I’ve enjoyed each new opportunity to grow.
Across the range of positions I’ve held over the years, I’ve found that the key to success is nearly always collaboration. Hearing, understanding, explaining, and responding to different perspectives and ideas is essential. A solution to nearly every challenge can be found with time and a sincere effort to meet multiple, and often competing, interests.

Do you have any advice for students just starting out in urban planning/urban ecology?
Volunteering and getting engaged with professional associations like APA, ULI, CNU is a great way to build a professional network. Someone you meet just might be your future boss or colleague!
Also, don’t change jobs too frequently as it makes you look unreliable. You also really need time to build core competence in the position.  I have had four really great jobs and stayed at each between four to eight years. I don’t regret any of the moves, nor any of the offers I declined in between.

Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you.
My family operates an 800-acre ranch in Woodland, UT. This is where I developed my love for open spaces and is where you can find me most weekends.