Job Searching in the COVID Era: Lena Porell '20 MS Urban Planning

Sept. 24, 2020

Lena Porell, Staff Planner, Horsley Witten Group

Lena Porell '20 MS Urban Planning
Alumni Profile and Job Search Advice
Lena Porell

Five Questions with Master of Science in Urban Planning Graduate Lena Porell

"The most challenging thing I experienced was readjusting my expectations for what my post-graduation life would look like."


Lena Porell
'20 is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Coverdell Scholar who graduated from CAPLA's Master of Science in Urban Planning program in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Despite the challenges presented by job hunting during a global pandemic, she recently moved across the country to Providence, Rhode Island to start her new career as a staff planner.

She has some advice for future and recent graduates, and speaks about how her education at CAPLA prepared her for this opportunity.

Tell us about your new job. Who will you be working for and what will you be doing?

I'm going to be the staff planner for Horsley Witten Group based out of Providence. Horsley Witten Group is an environmental science and engineering consulting firm that was founded on the principles of sustainable water resource protection. The firm's work and mission focus on the conservation, preservation and protection of the world's natural resources. Horsley Witten Group works with local municipalities, state and federal government, nonprofit organizations and for-profit institutions. 

In my position, I'll be working on developing planning documents like open space and recreation plans and hazard mitigation plans. I'll be creating community engagement plans and implementing them for clients, as well as providing support in graphic design, GIS mapping, data analysis and research. 

How did you hear about the opportunity, and what excites you most about the position?

When I started the job search, I would check the American Planning Association job board daily for new opportunities. That is where I found out about Horsley Witten Group's position and I immediately applied because of the cool work the firm does. I'm excited to work for a firm that's passionate about environmental conservation and selects clients and projects that advance the firm's mission and goals surrounding conservation.

How did the MS Urban Planning program and your experience at CAPLA prepare you for this role?

Just about all of the responsibilities for my position were covered in one or more of my MS Urban Planning program classes, which is great. The MS Urban Planning program was great at providing the technical skills and experiences for which planners should expect to be assigned at their place of work. I specifically think working on the capstone project, Tucson Displacement Study, helped me bring all the skills I learned together and work with my cohort as a productive and cohesive team. During my time at CAPLA, I sought out many multidisciplinary projects to experience working with students in landscape architecture, architecture and real estate development. Those experiences were extremely enriching for me. I got to see how other disciplines worked and I think it'll be helpful at my new multidisciplinary firm.

MS Urban Planning students visiting Portland

Lena Porell, fourth from the left, with her fellow MS Urban Planning students during a field trip to Portland, Oregon. The class visited the city as part of the Tucson Displacement Study project to learn from local planning experts and public officials about similar planning pressures faced by both jurisdictions.

Photo by Arlie Adkins

What was the most challenging thing you experienced while graduating and looking for a new job amid a global pandemic? How did you overcome it?

The most challenging thing I experienced was readjusting my expectations for what my post-graduation life would look like. Pre-COVID, I had a few post-grad opportunities in the works that suddenly were shut down or cut once the pandemic started. There was also a period of time where it seemed like every organization I was interested in was on a pandemic-related hiring freeze. It was really frustrating and nerve-racking as graduation got closer and then passed. 

To get through this, I just kept applying to the jobs that were available! I adjusted my summer plans to extend my Peace Corps Fellowship job until August to give myself a buffer in finding a permanent planning job. And slowly, things started opening up again.

What job search advice do you have for current students and recent grads?

Start applying early and apply everywhere! Or if the place you're interested in isn't hiring right now, reach out and let them know you're interested. That way, if there's a position that opens later on, they already know you want the job.


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