Grace Hood grew up in Davenport, Iowa, roughly 20 minutes away from the world’s largest truck stop. At a young age, she noticed how the city’s planning impacted the day-to-day lives of its residents. Sidewalks ended as abruptly as city blocks did, and the preferred method of transportation was driving. “Let’s just say, it was very different from Colorado,” Hood said.
Her attention to her surroundings, and her love for the outdoors (which included taking hiking and backpacking trips with her family to scenic places like Alaska), eventually brought Grace to Colorado. She was a well-known environmental reporter at Colorado Public Radio (CPR) for five years before making a mid-career pivot and applying to CU Denver’s master of urban and regional planning (MURP) program in the College of Architecture and Planning (CAP)—the state’s only accredited graduate program of its kind.
On May 13, at CU Denver’s Spring Commencement, Hood will cross the stage and pick up her degree, which symbolizes knowledge, collaboration, passion, and two years of both stimulating and challenging work. “I think [for] everyone who gets their undergrad or advanced degree, there is a certain level of sacrifice,” Hood said. “For me, to be underemployed for two years, that was a sacrifice, and so I’m very proud. I’m getting this degree because I want to make the world a better place.”
Hood earned an undergraduate degree in history at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and moved to Boulder to work as a project manager in financial services, before making a career shift to journalism. While at CPR, she visited all four corners of Colorado and covered a variety of topics, including how the state measures methane from oil and gas fields, air quality, and how Coloradans think about climate change in their voting behaviors. In total, she produced approximately 450 feature stories and 500 newscast items.
She loved researching and analyzing data, so she applied to the Ted Scripps Fellowship in Environmental Journalism at CU Boulder. After an intensive year of courses and projects on land use policies, redlining, and other topics, Hood knew what she wanted to do next. “When you’re mid-career, it can be intimidating to go back to school,” she said. “Being immersed in the academic environment gave me the courage to apply to CU Denver to study the topical issues in the region that I live in.”
Hood, who commuted from Boulder to the downtown Denver campus a few days a week, quickly found her place at CAP. “The whole faculty is dynamite,” she said. Assistant Professor Priyanka deSouza, PhD, taught Hood about the ground level ozone and geographic information systems (GIS). Assistant Professor Ken Schroeppel gave her an introduction to city planning. And Assistant Professor Manish Shirgaokar, PhD, educated her on transportation planning. She appreciated the flexibility and real-world experience offered in all of her courses.
And her classmates had just as much of an impact on her experience. “I learned so much from my fellow students—some came right out of their undergraduate degrees, some were first-gen, some were the first in their families to go to graduate school,” she said. “We had so many robust discussions.”
In the last year of her program, Hood interned for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) and focused on the state’s Land Use bill to establish a process to address housing needs across the state. She worked with her supervisor on research and blogs on topics, which included the impact of dense development on climate change. The internship, she said, let her marry the analytical skills she acquired in journalism with her passion for the environment.
As she reflects on her master’s degree, Hood encourages anyone who has been thinking about making a career shift or going back to school to “just take the plunge.” Though she is still looking for employment, she knows she wants to find a job that touches city planning, climate change, and transportation. And CU Denver set a strong precedent for whatever is next. “It’s really about finding the next professional home for myself,” she said. “It’s really about the people and the work.”