Enhancing Professional Development and Expanding Professional Networks

The third annual call for applicants for the Young Planners Group (YPG) of the San Diego Section of the American Planning Association (SDAPA) Mentorship Program was launched on December 5th, 2013. The Mentorship Program has been coordinated by SDAPA’s YPG since 2012, with a mission to foster professional growth and career development in a team setting through an exchange of professional expertise and innovative planning practice. With over 120 program participants to date, the number of those who have and will benefit from this program is expected to grow.

Unlike traditional one-on-one mentorship programs, the SDAPA YPG Mentorship Program establishes mentorship pods comprised of 3-4 members at differing levels of career development, ranging from student to seasoned planner. The goal of the program is to successfully match students and young planning professionals, also known as protégés, with experienced planners for guidance and support, while offering mentors an opportunity to strengthen ties with future leaders of the planning community and SDAPA.

At the start of the program, protégés complete a Professional Growth Plan that outlines their goals and objectives in specific areas of professional development. Throughout the program, mentorship pods engage in at least four Program Sessions, working collaboratively toward meeting the goals set forth in each protégés Professional Growth Plan. Program Sessions are intended to be formal 1-hour activities but can take a variety of different forms. Previous mentorship pods have engaged in resume review workshops, mock interviews, job shadows, case study presentations and site visits.

The YPG Mentorship and Education Committee also coordinates mentorship-oriented events, such as lunch hour site visits and informational panels, in order to facilitate mentorship session opportunities. The program year typically lasts about 5 months, from February through June, with a Milestone Celebration event in May. The event serves to recognize the efforts of all program participants and to celebrate not only increased knowledge and enhanced career development, but also new and long-lasting relationships between participants.

This past year, as a result of countless reports of program participants who had gone above and beyond their roles, SDAPA YPG instated the first ever Mentor and Protégé of the Year awards. The awards recognized those participants whose commitment and enthusiasm ensured the success of their mentorship and the program as a whole. The winners of the Mentor and Protégé of the Year awards for 2013 were:

 Bill Chopyk, Mentor of the Year 
 Carolina Gregor, Mentor of the Year 
 Mina Brown, Protégé of the Year 
 Regina Ochoa, Protégé of the Year



Recently, three of the awardees, coincidently all members of the same power pod, were asked to share a little bit about their experience in the Mentorship Program, including their motivation for participating in the program, their program accomplishment(s) and whether or not they would recommend the program to others or participate in it again. Here is what they had to say:

1) What motivated you to participate in the mentorship program?

Carolina Gregor: When I was getting started in the urban planning field, everything was new to me. I had studied sociology and business as an undergrad and had only taken one planning class in college, which was focused specifically on Los Angeles. I was brand new to both San Diego and the profession. In my early years, while I was getting my masters, a handful of key people served as exceptional role models and mentors. I felt very fortunate to have that guidance, and wanted to give back to the profession in a meaningful way.

Mina Brown: I’ve been a mentor to UC Irvine planning students in the past, but this time I was really looking for a mentor.  I’ve reached a point in my career where I’m not sure what the next step is, and I think an important part of figuring that out is talking with people who have more experience in the field.  Of course, once I was in the group I really enjoyed mentoring the recent grads too.

Regina Ochoa: As a young planner just starting out in my career I was to looking to gain more exposure to the planning field. I was hoping to get advice and insight from people who have been in the field for years. I was definitely able to achieve this through the mentorship program!

2) What did you accomplish during the program that was the most value to you? 

Carolina Gregor: The three most noteworthy accomplishments of my mentorship group were: getting to know one another’s interests, providing input on resumes, and conducting mock interviews. Younger people have tremendous insights, and it’s important to hear their voices and explore their perspectives.

Mina Brown: I think what I value most is having made new friends in the San Diego planning circle.  But I probably learned the most from the mock panel interview, which was an opportunity not only to practice being interviewed but also to interview the other group members and learn from watching them.  I think I prepared better for this mock interview than I did for most of my real interviews!  I discovered that it’s really helpful to have anecdotes at my fingertips about things I’ve learned or accomplished.  I got some surprising feedback, too.

Regina Ochoa: I gained so much from the program it’s hard to pick one thing exactly. I really value the relationships I was able to form with my mentorship group members. Also, the mock interviews we conducted were extremely helpful. I received a lot of great feedback and learned a great deal from watching the others.

3) Would you recommend the program to others? Would you participate in the program again?

Carolina Gregor: I would absolutely recommend the mentorship program to others! This is a great way to network, and the program provides opportunities for planners from the public, private, and non-profit sectors to learn from one-another. An added bonus is that the program is really well-organized, which means that it works well for people with busy schedules.

Mina Brown: I do plan to participate again, although I think we were particularly lucky in the level of commitment and camaraderie in our group. I’d love to find out if there’s another great group out there!

Regina Ochoa: Yes, I would definitely recommend the program to others as well as participate myself! It’s great to meet planners who have been in the field for years as well as those just starting out.

All those interested in enhancing their professional and technical development while expanding their network are encouraged to apply to the program. Applications for the 2014 Mentorship Program are due Friday, January 17th. Blank applications can be accessed here and should be submitted to sdapagypg@gmail.com. SDAPA YPG looks forward to your participation and yet another successful year of this dynamic program.

If you have any questions about the SDAPA YPG Mentorship Program or about YPG, you may contact Natalia Clark Hentschel, SDAPA YPG Chair at sdapapypg@gmail.com

Natalia Clark Hentschel is an Account Executive with Katz & Associates