DePaul University Career Center's Blog

What’s up with Urban Planning and Research? Advice from an Alum

By: Ellie Santonato, Career Community Advisor, & Francis Matias, Career Community Ambassador

Sarah Stolpe is a 2021 graduate from DePaul University whose college experience was impacted due to the University shut down in March 2020 that continued through the 2020–2021 school year. Sarah was a double major in Political Science and Economics. Today, a year and a half after graduation, Sarah is the Associate Analyst at Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) in the Research Analysis and Programming Division. In the hour-long conversation with the Career Center, Sarah described her experience as an undergraduate student, her job search process post-graduation, and finally, gave a peek into her job’s day-to-day tasks. 

Here are some critical pieces of advice from the conversation with Sarah:

An internship/fellowship is a great way to learn what you do not like.  

Almost every DePaul student experiences at least one internship during their time on campus. Some of these internships inspire students about what they can do post-graduation. However, not everyone is that lucky. Sometimes you have the training and learn about what you do not like to do in a workplace setting. Having an internship you may not like is good because once you discover what you do not like, you will have an easier time describing what you do. Additionally, when you’re job searching, you can narrow out roles that include those activities or settings you do not like. 

Sarah got involved on campus and with navigating local policies as soon as she found herself on campus in the fall of 2018. As an honors student studying Political Science, Sarah thought local politics was for her. She quickly found herself volunteering for J.B. Pritzker’s campaign for Governor, which then turned into a fellowship. Through this fellowship, Sarah got real-life experience and mentors that demonstrated what she could do at the local level. However, at this time, Sarah was exploring what else was there. Yes, she enjoyed her experience but realized that politics in this form might not be for her. This part of Sarah’s career journey is entirely normal.

Young employees or your entry-level manager make great mentors. 

When we think about networking or wanting to learn more about career pathways, we may think about the need to find a mentor. Now the media or the stereotypical view of mentorship is someone old and wise. 

However, students should be looking for younger mentors. First-year students and sophomores should try and find a junior or senior mentor, and students preparing for graduation should find a mentor who has just started their first job post-graduation. Seeking a younger mentor may be easier as there is less of a generational gap. Additionally, younger mentors demonstrate that there is no need for that imposter syndrome. You, too, can do it.

Sarah had a younger mentor from her J.B. Pritzker fellowship. She said at the time of her experience, her manager, another DePaul graduate, seemed so old and wise, but they were 20-somethings figuring out post-graduation life. Now, as recent alumni, Sarah reconnected with her senior manager, bonding over the fact that navigating the first few years after college can be challenging but that it is full of exploration. 

Post-graduation & your early 20s is still time to figure it all out. 

Post-graduation life and navigating your early 20s is a topic for another blog post, but after college, you can still explore different types of positions and organizations. 

Sarah did this. She worked at two different organizations before CMAP and was only at each organization for four months! Although not always recommended, you do have the opportunity to do this. Working for different organizations early in your career allows you to explore the roles and work cultures that work best for you. For Sarah, working at two organizations for a short time benefited her because she was able to get a role she was more interested in sooner than she may have been expecting. 

Getting involved shows that you are committed to your community.

For positions in which you’re working towards improving people’s quality of life, organizations will prioritize hiring those who demonstrate a strong commitment to their communities.

As Sarah stated, organizations want to see that their workers not only know what’s going on in their communities, but more importantly, that they care about what’s going on. During her time at DePaul, Sarah volunteered through the DePaul Community Service Association (DCSA). Through DCSA, she was able to gain valuable experience working with and serving Chicago communities in a way that shows her dedication to community involvement. 

Watch the full event recording here:

Not sure what the future holds? Need support along the way? That’s exactly where we come in. Whether you’re a freshman or an alumnus, it’s never too early (or too late) to utilize our services.

Book an appointment with Ellie, or another member of the advising community through Handshake, or by calling the front desk at (773) 325-7431.

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