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Planning Department Showcases Graduation Awards

April 28, 2020

Because of social distancing and online instruction and services restricting interaction during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Urban and Regional Planning (DURP) has been announcing its graduation awards for outstanding students in the program by virtual means.

Over the past few weeks, the department has celebrated the following master's students with these social media posts about their achievements:

Aleah Qureshi - American Planning Association (APA) Outstanding Student Award, the top honor the department bestows

Qureshi has been a leader among her peers. To cite just one example, she served as project manager on the team preparing a climate adaptation plan for FSU’s Ringling campus in Sarasota. She led the teams’ development of climate adaptation strategies and volunteered to travel to Sarasota to present the final draft plan to the Ringling Board of Directors on behalf of her classmates. She demonstrated a high level of professionalism in all these activities.

She has also excelled in her activities outside the classroom. During her first year of studies toward the Master of Science in Planning degree she will receive this semester, Qureshi was selected to be the research assistant working with Planner-in-Residence Dennis Smith in support of applied research projects. Based on her proven strong analytical and design skills, she was awarded a second year of support during which she not only completed her assigned research duties but also helped to supervise and mentor other students in their project work.

Qureshi has begun to build a record of professional experience and engagement. She interned with CDM-Smith, a leading private sector consulting firm, in summer 2019 and was asked to stay on and part-time throughout the 2019-2020 college year. She subsequently applied for and was accepted into a full-time position starting immediately after her graduation at the CDM-Smith office in Houston, Texas.


Jacob Hunt - APA Florida Student Planner of the Year Award for demonstrating outstanding achievement in his academic career in planning and effectiveness, results, and potential for a successful career as a planning professional

In addition to his academic excellence, Hunt was singled out by Assistant Professor April Jackson for his contributions to several community-engagement projects during his tenure in the program.

“Jacob played an integral role collecting and analyzing housing data while working on an Affordable Housing Needs Assessment for the Housing Leadership Council," Jackson said. "Additionally, he was central to the initial collaborative efforts with DURP, the City of Tallahassee, Griffin Heights Neighborhood Association and Providence Neighborhood Association to conduct community surveys and public meetings and to produce neighborhood plans.”

Hunt has also excelled professionally. He interned with Sarasota County Planning and Development and recently with the City of Tallahassee as a neighborhood affairs specialist working with the Frenchtown and Griffin Heights communities on the Neighborhood First planning process, a community-driven approach that integrates residents, stakeholders and city officials in a multi-year planning process. Upon graduation he will work as a planner with the Sarasota County Planning and Development services department, where he will be able to draw on his educational background in neighborhood planning, affordable housing, real estate and economic development.


Michael Zang - Departmental Excellence Award to students who have shown excellence during their time in the MSP program, exemplified by high academic achievement; notable contributions in service to the department, community, or profession; and exemplary performance in their professional pursuits (inclusive of internship, assistantship, part- or full-time employment, etc.)

Zang worked as a research assistant for Professors John Felkner and April Holmes during his first year. With Felkner, he supported work that examined the economic development associated with road development in East Asia. With Dr. Holmes, he supported work that investigated barriers to climate change adaptation planning in California and how it compares to Florida’s experience. He subsequently served as the student project manager for the studio capstone on climate adaptation planning for FSU’s Ringling campus.

He has lately been supporting Professor William Butler and the department as a recruiting assistant. In this capacity he interviewed alumni and developed alumni profiles highlighted on the department’s webpage and in recruitment materials. Zang also served as an informal touchstone for prospective students, attending recruitment and orientation sessions and answering questions about the program and adjusting to life in Tallahassee.


Michael Turrisi - Departmental Excellence Award

Turrisi joined the department as an MSP student in 2018 and was awarded the Florida Department of Transportation Transit Fellowship. He also concurrently obtained the Emergency Management Certificate from the Askew School of Public Administration.

He has interned in the communications office at the Florida Department of Emergency Management (FDEM). As a Transit Fellow he worked for the Tallahassee mass transit system, StarMetro, and then at the engineering consulting firm HDR in Pensacola, Fla., where he supported the Escambia County Area Transit agency with ADA compliance issues. Turrisi began working part time, again for the FDEM, in its State Warning Point in October 2019. He is currently employed there as a full-time staff member.

For his studio project, he travelled to Panama City in summer 2019 to help Hagerty Consulting with community meetings and stakeholder interviews and was team lead for the subgroup of students that developed the Environment Annex for the Panama City Long Term Recovery Plan. In addition to his excellent academic achievement and demonstrated leadership, Turrisi made himself available to the department's applied project Barnebey Lab as a volunteer, traveling to Jacksonville in the spring 2019 to support the lab in presenting student posters as part of the state’s transportation plan update kickoff.


Maya Taylor - Departmental Service Award, given to one or more students who have provided exemplary service to the department

Taylor worked during the summer of 2019 for the Barnebey Lab, leading efforts to transform sketch-up materials and reports produced for the multi-mobility design studio into final client-ready deliverables. She also served as de facto lead and coordinator for the other research assistants involved in the project and played a key role in helping the lab develop an affordable housing action plan for Hernando County that is already being implemented.

She also served as a teaching assistant for the Visualization/Graphic Communications course and volunteered to create flyers, visualizations and plan documents to support DURP's efforts on projects in Frenchtown, Griffin Heights and Providence.

Professor Jackson reports that: “Maya as an architect and planner has been an incredible asset to DURP as she provides a range of support on community engaged projects and DURP events. She is always willing to lend a helping hand to market ongoing student events, such as street cleanups, meetings, fundraisers, #paintthepavement and market Wednesdays.”


Chris Garcia - Departmental Service Award

The. award is chosen from nominations by faculty and fellow students. Quoting from one of the student nominations: “Chris is honestly a god-send for Adobe, ESRI and, of course, Microsoft tools that often go wrong on my end. Chris seems to have the psychic power to reset my passwords before I even realized I forgot them. Never an eye-roll or hint of disapproval, Chris has made my time computing during these past 1.8 years in the department a lot easier, and I’m sure everyone would agree.”



Jack Porter - Community Service Award, to one or more students who have given exemplary service to the community

Called by one of the students who nominated her "a tireless advocate and community servant for our local communities," Porter was the youngest appointed member of the Tallahassee/Leon County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. She has been a community organizer with various neighborhood associations, including the Providence Neighborhood Association and the Frenchtown Neighborhood Improvement Association.

The nominator went on to say: "I witnessed firsthand how she willingly spent her own money to purchase dinner at the Providence Neighborhood First Community Kickoff Meeting, where the former president of the PNA graciously thanked Jack and spoke highly of how dedicated she is to Providence and how she has been devoting her time since Day 1 of the process. Jack does anything she can to advocate for and support Tallahassee communities. She always gives 120% and inspires me and everyone else around here to engage more with our local communities.”


Ericha Stewart - Community Service Award

Stewart organized several community engagement events, including #paintthepavement, Griffin Heights Street Clean ups and the Griffin Heights Woodward DURP Street Adoption. She volunteered her time with the Griffin Heights and Providence community engagement processes, survey canvassing and facilitation for Neighborhood First. She wasn’t enrolled in either the Urban Design or Community Engagement classes for those intensive engagement portions of the project but attended these classes on her own because she wanted to be involved in these learning opportunities.

Stewart will receive master’s degrees in both planning and public health this term. She is current deployed as an emergency responder and epidemiologist for the State of Florida to assist with COVID-19 in St.Johns.


Garcia, Hunt, Qureshi, Taylor, Turrisi and Zang, along with Kohl Malo (left) and Hayden Macbeth (right), were given the Edward McClure Award for Academic Achievement. This award is named in honor of a distinguished planning educator who served as the founding chair for DURP.