University of Iowa adds new certificate to help students pursue planning, public affairs

Undergraduate students have a new opportunity this spring, as the School of Planning and Public Affairs is adding a certificate focused on helping students discover the various facets of the school.


Raquele Decker

The Old Capitol Building is seen on Monday, March 1, 2021.

Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Reporter

After hearing students’ interest in public affairs and planning, a new certificate will be offered to allow undergraduates to focus on a program that previously heavily focused on graduate students.

Fifty-six years after the school’s inception, the University of Iowa School of Planning and Public Affairs is developing a program specifically focused on undergraduate students.

Director of the UI School of Planning and Public Affairs Chuck Connerly said the school initially started with a graduate program in 1964. Though undergraduate students have been able to take classes in planning and public affairs for several years, he said spring 2020 marks the first time UI students could earn a certificate in the school.

The Certificate in Urban Studies will focus on exposing students to city planning and organization while building an understanding of urban issues and the policies that impact the improvement of cities, Connerly said. Students can declare the certificate starting in spring 2021, he said.

Connerly added that the certificate is fast moving and allows for students to personalize their education into whatever sector of planning they choose.

“There’s a lot of flexibility for students — there’s a lot of choice,” he said. “Whatever angle of urban planning students are interested in, there’s a lot of options for them here. It’s a certificate that is also a prequel to getting a professional degree in planning, which is helpful.”

The certificate is 18 semester hours and requires one mandatory course and five other courses that students can choose out of 15 classes.

The certificate pairs well with any field of study, Connerly said, especially with the Certificate in Sustainability offered by the UI Office of Sustainability and the Environment.

UI Sustainability Program Coordinator Jenni Stacy-Adams said there are several classes that can count as credit for both certificates.

“Students can use three courses to cross over into the other certificate,” she said. “Each certificate serves a different purpose, but they complement one another nicely and will add value to whatever a student is already pursuing.”

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She said both programs are beneficial to students who want to go to graduate school. She said the Certificate in Urban Studies is more focused than the broad Certificate in Sustainability and offers specialization to students’ resumes.

Associate Director of the School of Planning and Public Affairs Lucie Laurian said the goal of the certificate is to serve undergraduates and allow them to explore the field.

“We’re formalizing something we’ve already been doing,” she said. “The certification solidifies their exploration of and exposes students to the field of planning and public affairs as we try to be more present in the undergrad offering and respond to students’ requests.”

While the program is brand new, she said she’s already spoken to students who are interested in the program and looking to gain more information before they declare the certificate.

Connerly said the UI’s School of Planning and Public Affairs is ready for this program and to share its wealth of knowledge with younger students, instead of only graduate and professional students.

“We have a lot of experience researching cities and teaching about cities,” he said. “We want to apply what our graduate students are learning to students that are at the undergraduate level to offer people more.”

The certificate is for anyone of any major, Laurian said. The classes offer a look into how individuals can better their communities and offer solutions, she said.

“If anyone wants to change the world, this certificate is a way to do it,” Laurian said. “You can change cities, communities, and regions, this one of the best ways to go about it.”