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Paulo Aguilera (BS Urban Ecology, ’18)

Paulo Aguilera
BS Urban Ecology, 2018

Small Lake City, UT

Current Position
Planner & GIS Specialist at GSBS Architects

How did you discover urban planning and/or urban ecology?
After dabbling in his short-lived career as a pre-architecture student, Paulo very quickly discovered that the Brutalist concrete-exposed nature of the Architecture building didn’t appeal to his sensitivity of indoor climate. So naturally, Paulo packed his pencil bag and aimlessly wandered the University’s 1,500-acre mega campus under the intensity of the dry Utah sun only to find himself in the basement of the same building escaping the heat. Upon return and realizing that his body temperature was dropping again, he stumbled into an urban planning class. He was warmly welcomed with a hot cup of Jane Jacobs and a cozy blanket of GM conspiracies. The crowd was weird enough to his liking and he decided to camp the night.

Favorite memory from the program?
Two years later, in 2016, after a long slumber from camp he realized that he wasn’t reaping the benefits of a student Spotify account, so credit card in hand and mojito in the other he surfed the web with a mission but ended up mistakenly buying a one-way ticket to Chicago. Lucky for him, a bunch of Utah people were there for a ChicagoLAB studio. It ended up being a delicious summer studio full of gentrification studies fueled by late-night taco bar crawls. The exposure to a city that is obsessed with mirrored beans, unbearable winters, and Ferris Bueller was an eye-opening experience for him. By experiencing the city and professional realm of other planners and architects, Paulo was inspired to continue developing his career as a multi-disciplined planner and taco connoisseur.

How did you find your first job after graduating?
In his junior year, Paulo gave into temptation and signed up for Reid Ewing’s internship class that promised starting 6-figure salaries for graduates of the class. After 20 minutes of engaging in Reid’s comedic build up to his dilly-dilly joke, he got too eager and applied for an economic planning internship before Reid got to the punchline. After a mild reprimand from Reid for not applying without a cover letter or using him as reference contact, Paulo found himself in an interview for the position a week later. After realizing that Paulo could dive into the bottomless abyss of GIS, GSBS hired him a year before his graduation. And as they say, the rest is dilly dilly.

Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you.

Right after graduation at the U, Paulo did the obvious and enrolled in culinary school to feed his curiosity (some might say obsession) with the gastronomy of tacos. 10 happy lbs. later, Paulo can attest that this was worth it.

Do you have any advice for students just starting out in urban planning/urban ecology?

At a bare minimum, stay in school. Or ideally win the lottery and don’t forget about me. For those who are content with the former, take the next words I say with a grain of salt – my words to you have no basis more reliable than my own experience:

  1. Travel. You’ll learn a lot about different cities that ‘plan well’. Travel to them. If money is tight for a big trip, try the alternative spring breaks through the Bennion center and start in Portland (don’t forget to get a TriMet pass). If money isn’t tight, take me with you.
  2. Take a GIS class
  3. At some point, take CMP 3250 with Patrick Putt (do this if you don’t want to be twiddling your thumbs on the first day of work).
  4. Get involved with APA – it’s free as a student. Travel to the annual APA NPC conferences.
  5. If you don’t know what APA is, learn what APA is.
  6. Take a GIS class… déjà vu
  7. Learn to write well – take your writing classes moderately serious.
  8. Eventually you’ll get familiar with these, but here’s your early start.
  9. Network. Don’t be timid to talk to and reach out to other planners in the field. Ask questions to the point where you feel like you’re asking too many questions. You have a right to know what you’re getting yourself into.
  10. If you want a job in the field, the easiest exposure is by attending career fairs. The U hosts a great one every Spring. Eventually you’ll want to apply to a job you find interesting. Make a resume, take it to career services, have them tear it apart, revise, and do it again. After a couple rounds of this, your application will have a leg up on most everyone.
  11. Seriously, take a GIS class. You’re not expected to know everything in an entry level position, but this is a tangible skill that’ll get your foot in the door faster.
  12. And finally, since it happens to everyone, when you find yourself exhausted, dreading, and agonizing over your academic life decisions because of that 20-page paper you forgot to start because that earlier procrastinated binge session of Friends seemed like a better idea, well congratulations and welcome to the industry! You’re halfway there. Here’s more procrastination material for you (except it’s about planning, so for our sake, let’s call it alternative learning) @urbanplanningmemes. And don’t worry, you’ll find this funnier the longer you’re sucked into planning. You’ll reap the rewards of good ‘ol fashioned Kevin Lynch and William Whyte humor by sowing the essential seeds of walking, accessibility, imageability, and density now. So, start early and keep eating your vegetables.
  13. Have fun. It’s an exciting time to be planner and an important time to be one too.

*Bonus Tip – If you end up liking Planning to the point of pursuing an MCMP or any other professional degree. supplement your education with elective courses in Architecture, Real Estate Development, and Sustainability. It’ll be helpful to be introduced to the various disciplines of potential people you’ll end up working with.