Hieu Nguyen, M.PL. ’05, MCIP, RPP
I went into urban planning more by chance than planning (perhaps, ironically) this career path. I studied Economics and International Development Studies for my Bachelor’s degree at Dalhousie University and I knew what type of work I wanted to do - improve government services to deliver basic needs, community development, work abroad - but felt I didn’t have the professional and practical expertise to competitively pursue these opportunities. This led to my application to Queen's School of Urban and Regional Planning and I think some say the rest is history? Well not exactly, but more than 10 years later I am a professional planner, have worked internationally on fulfilling community programs, gained experience in different sectors of planning, and now, for the nation’s capital, work on exciting development projects with the City of Ottawa.
SURP is a great community. You learn from the professors, but you also learn a lot from your classmates. You bond, commiserate, and grow over the two years you spend working together on endless projects, assignments, and essays. The professors have an open door policy, which is sincere, and they don’t stifle or limit your ideas and ambitions. You meet mentors along the journey and then become one.
I worked hard during the program and at times, didn’t think I was going to meet the deadlines or pass an exam. But when I look back, I see that I was challenged, learned to work well on a team, became assertive in presenting my opinions, and always tried to do my best. SURP fostered an environment where I could thrive and grow confident in my abilities.
Upon graduation I interned with the City of Ottawa in community planning and policy. I knew I wanted to work in municipal planning and was able to do so through the SURP internship program. I was able to continue with the City on contract doing development review work and then did an internship through the Canadian Institute of Planners WorldLink Program in Hanoi, Vietnam working on Canadian-Vietnamese municipal partnership projects. This led me to working with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), first in their Centre of Sustainable Community Development and next with the International Centre, where I worked on a post-tsunami disaster relief program in Sri Lanka.
My career path then took me to the private sector where I worked at MMM Group as a project planner. I gained valuable experience as a consultant and worked extensively on the Master Plans of Mecca and Medina for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Coming back full circle per se, I work again for the City of Ottawa as a development review planner for the urban core area, which includes working on the redevelopment of a historic paper mill property on one of the City’s last downtown waterfront sites.
The exciting part of planning is seeing the projects you work on come to fruition. It does not happen overnight, but if you stick with the work you enjoy, you’ll see it proudly one day. Same goes with planning friends, you’ll catch up without skipping a beat even if it has been years in between. I enjoy meeting recent grads as it reminds me of my school time days and where I humbly started from.