Editor’s Note: Did you know that the 2017 National Planning Conference in New York City offered mentorship matches between emerging planners and seasoned professionals? Upon signing up, interested participants were randomly assigned with a mentor or mentee from anywhere in the nation. Ironically, and coincidentally, the program paired up Katia Polster, a student at UC Irvine pursuing her Masters in Urban and Regional Planning, who lives in San Diego and is a mentee in the San Diego Section Mentorship Program led by our Young Planners Group, with Carolina Ilic, a Senior Regional Planner at SANDAG, who is a mentor in the same local program. Through the San Diego section’s Mentorship Program, Katia and Carolina had already met at various mentorship events. To their great surprise and delight, they were paired up as a Mentor Match Team at the National Planning Conference. The following article provides a look into Katia’s experiences at the NYC National Planning Conference with her APA Conference Mentor.  

Protégé: Katia Polster, MURP, UCI;  Mentor: Carolina Ilic, AICP, SANDAG

Katia’s Story:

Participating in the Mentor Match at the 2017 National Planning Conference was the most valuable part of my conference experience. An ideal match was made by APA, partnering me with an accomplished Senior Planner in my city, whose work I admire. Carolina Ilic immediately reached out to me with plans for us to meet up at the Exhibit Hall Mixer following the first day sessions. Leading up to our meeting, our correspondence included clarification of my expectations and goals which included making connections with partners in our region to expand my professional network, exposure to topics around my thesis research and acquiring leads toward internship opportunities.

Carolina shared her knowledge and experience with a genuine desire to help me build a strong career foundation and connect me with the APA community. She was my guiding light throughout the conference, consistently checking in to ensure that I was making the most out of my first national planning conference experience. Her guidance helped me navigate the overabundance of information and shifted my focus to key elements of the conference experience most aligned with my goals.

Carolina maximized every opportunity to introduce me to prominent planners in our region and facilitated connections with potential future employers. A well-connected and respected professional, she included me in social events with colleagues, allowing me to contribute to conversations and providing valuable constructive feedback. We also had a lot of fun together, exploring New York City’s Times Square’s red bleachers and restaurants, and capturing memories of our time together.

One of the most valuable pieces of advice given was to get out of the convention center and attend one of the walking tours. After stretching to maximize session after session on the first day, I spent the second day touring East New York, Brooklyn with New York City Planners, learning outside the classroom about The East New York Neighborhood Plan. I witnessed firsthand, the collaboration between city agencies and community members to address affordable housing and economic development needs that supported growth in a diverse, regional transit-oriented community.

After the conference, Carolina invited me to continue our conversations once back in our city. She has become a valuable resource and I am confident that our relationship will continue to grow. I am forever grateful for her support and look forward to future opportunities to collaborate on important projects for our city and region.

The pictures in this article include Katia’s husband, Steve Polster, and Carolina’s additional protégé, Siqing Yi, who is currently studying at UC Berkeley.