Location: Los Angeles Metropolitan Area
College/University: Claremont McKenna
Post-Disc* Activity: Luce Scholar at Henry Luce Foundation
Tell us what led you to Disc*. What were you doing when you applied, and what inspired you to enroll?
I applied to Disc* during the second year of my undergraduate degree. At the time, I was looking for a program that centralized my interests in academic research, urban design, and sustainability. Disc* seemed like a great place to build community with and learn from students and faculty interested in creating community-based sustainable solutions.
What did you hope to get out of the program? Did your experience match your expectations? Were there any surprises?
Before Disc*, I did not have the vocabulary to articulate how the built environment informed how people navigate their daily lives. At Disc*, my professors spoke about cities like they were alive. Planners and designers are responsible for caring for a city’s soul and its physical being. As I learned how to design physical landscapes, I was also tasked with promoting public life through the built environment’s intentional design. I found the process of re-imagining the built environment around me also as an opportunity to reflect on the interconnectedness of physical landscapes to issues of public policy and place-based community research.
What were some of the highlights of the program for you? What were the biggest takeaways?
Berkeley’s physical location and Disc*’s mission challenged me to think creatively and intellectually about cities’ design and maintenance. Disc* expanded my limited imagination of what public spaces can look like and how public life can serve diverse purposes in different contexts through field trips across the bay. Cities in the Bay are constantly re-purposing public space functions and testing innovative methods of increasing neighborhood accessibility to the city’s resources.
What advice would you give someone on their first day of the program?
Be present in the experience. Take time to explore the Bay. It is as much of a classroom as UC Berkley itself. Building connections with your professors, GSIs, and peers—the DISC* community continues to be immense help as I figure out my career.
What are you up to now? Has Disc* informed the work you're doing out in the world?
This summer, I am heading to Seoul, South Korea, where I’ll work at an urban design firm as a 2021-2022 Luce Scholar with the Henry Luce Foundation. Luce is an opportunity to explore an entirely new cultural context and learn about how urban planning and design contribute to a city’s social fabric. Asian cities have developed in a compressed period within limited space and inspired innovation that balances community preservation in a modern world. For cities like Seoul, investing in mobility and public spaces has been essential in promoting placemaking, improving quality of life, and boosting local economies.
Looking five years down the road, where do you see yourself? What do you hope to achieve?
I plan to build upon her time in Asia by attending graduate school and working for a nonprofit urban planning and design firm. Eventually, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in urban planning to reflect on how participatory planning approaches can affirm everyday people’s experiences during the planning process and academic scholarship.
Learn more about Elena: www.linkedin.com/in/elenacast