Melissa Kim is no stranger to Temple University classrooms.
In 2003, she graduated with a JD degree from the Beasley School of Law after having completed a BA in Political Science at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. Even while attending law school, however, her interests kept taking her back to a passion for planning and design that began years prior.
“I grew up in Fort Lauderdale in the 1980s and 90s at a time when the area underwent enormous change and rapid growth. There were developments being built in the Everglades, the demographics were changing rapidly,” said Kim, 34, who will graduate May 13 with an MS in Community and Regional Planning. “I was aware of all the changes taking place around me and I was particularly interesting in why they were taking place. In college, I focused on political science and art history, but I always kept that interest in architecture and design — urban planning merges those two interests.”
After graduating from Amherst, Kim became involved in City Year in Chicago as an AmeriCorps volunteer.
“I was always interested in the social order and the built order of things, which I had studied about from an academic, theoretical perspective. Urban planning, however, has a concreteness to it, a practical dimension that I really like,” she said. “Through City Year, I worked with private corporations and community-based organizations to empower public high school students to improve the city landscape by developing community gardens, installing public murals, and cleaning up public spaces. While I found satisfaction in seeing my efforts improve the lives and environments of residents, I recognized that I could make an even greater contribution through policy and advocacy work.”
While at the Beasley School of Law, Kim was awarded the Reuben E. Cohen Memorial Award for the highest grades in zoning and land development law courses. In private practice, she volunteered for the American Bar Association’s special committee on smart growth and urban policy and continues to serve on the Malt and Brewed Beverage Hearing Board in the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections.
“As an attorney I was able to indirectly apply my knowledge of smart growth and planning, but I was more interested in direct applications,” she said. “I knew in order to do that I’d have to go back to school. The question for me was do I continue to practice law or do what I always wanted to do?”
The answer led her back to Temple and the Community and Regional Planning Master’s degree program in the School of Environmental Design offered at the Ambler Campus.
“With all of the various connections I’ve made over the years, I wanted to stay in the Philadelphia area so Temple was a logical choice. Temple has positioned itself to become a rising star in planning — the program is definitely making an impact in the region,” said Kim, who will graduate with a 3.92 grade point average. “I chose Temple’s program because of its commitment to the (Temple founder Russell) Conwell tradition — central theme in his speech Acres of Diamonds is that the resources and opportunities to achieve good things exist in one’s own community and that one could make better streets, better homes, better schools and better communities, in spite of having little means, through understanding the community’s opportunities and needs. My professors, fellow classmates and research assistants in the School of Environmental Design have taught me the meaning of this approach and equipped me with the tools to implement it.”
Being at Ambler, Kim said, also redefined her view on what the planning field could encompass.
“Coming to Ambler out of the city expanded my horizons as to what it means to be a planner. It expanded the scope of planning for me and made me think about and examine issues that I had never thought about before,” she said. “The evening course schedule, the research/teaching assistantship program, and the low tuition also allowed me the time and opportunities to earn a living and volunteer in my community while pursuing my degree. In the classroom, it’s been a wonderful experience to learn and share opinions and knowledge with a group of students and faculty that have a tremendous depth of experience in the field — you don’t often get opportunities like this.”
Upon graduation, Kim said she would like to apply her knowledge by focusing particularly on urban planning and urban policy issues.
“Society is changing very fast; it’s becoming more diverse, more linked. The social and cultural composition of cities is changing,” she said. “As planners, we need to acquire new tools to navigate and negotiate these complex issues in a globalized society.”