Kai Okazaki, MCRP '18, School of Community and Regional Planning
“I am passionate about building healthy, safe, and vibrant communities — a goal I felt was served by obtaining my degree in community and regional planning.”
I grew up in a small town in Jasper, Alberta, located in the Rocky Mountains. As someone who was surrounded by countless adventures in the wilderness, I ended up pursuing my first degree in the Natural Resource Conservation program at UBC’s Faculty of Forestry (unsurprisingly). This program had small cohort which allowed me to feel at home while transitioning to the larger city of Vancouver.
I had an upbringing of a very kind and close-knit community; this sparked my interest in how I can work with people that I care about and create better communities for them. This is why I decided to pursue a Master of Community and Regional Planning, because regardless of size and scale, a sense of community is important to everyone.
Why did you choose community and regional planning?
I first came across planning when I worked as a student staff at UBC Campus and Community Planning. After many conversations with staff, I discovered what the planning profession is about. I already had an interest in sustainability, coming from a natural resource conservation background, thus I wanted to find investigate the intersection between the natural and built environment.
What has made your time at UBC the most memorable?
People: the university campus community curated my curiosity to learn about the kind of research and work people are doing. I found inspiration knowing that there are highly-regarded individuals at UBC who are working to improve their communities.
What have you learned that is most valuable?
I found the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) gave me a great platform to broaden my knowledge and explore many areas of planning. I typically found myself wanting to take more courses than I could handle (as the topics were all so interesting). From fundamental theories to current issues, having the combination and breadth of academics and practitioners, allowed me to determine what kind of learning I wanted.
The most valuable part of SCARP is the connections to the small, but yet incredible, alumni community who are doing a diverse range of work to which I aspire. Having a small cohort of 35 students really creates an intimate and special experience that I wouldn’t have received otherwise. Although the program is two years, time has gone by quickly. Be present and enjoy every moment that comes your way!
How are you applying the skills you learned through your studies at UBC?
I’ve learned many valuable soft and technical skills throughout my studies. Some of the most important learning and training at SCARP was working with community partners. The courses that offered the experience to partner with a client really built high expectations for the rigour and care of my final deliverables. Although these courses required more work, the reward was invaluable. This also gave the opportunity to contribute meaningful work to partners who were challenged with a problem and needed support.
As well, I found that internship opportunities were a great way to learn from practitioners. I did two internships: one with the City of New Westminster (through the UBC Sustainability Scholars program), and a Mitacs internship with Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CALP). These were great opportunities to learn from other practitioners and apply learning into my practice as a planner.
What advice would you give a student considering graduate studies in community and regional planning?
Ask yourself why you are interested in planning and what you aspire to do in the field. There are no right or wrong answers, but it’s important to envision your long-term goals. There are many areas that may also interest you: urban design, architecture, landscape architecture, etc., but my biggest piece of advice would be to reach out to a planner whose work you’re interested in. I found that chatting with past students in the school really helped me understand SCARP and what my career in planning can look like.
Where do you find your inspiration?
There are many sources that I get my inspiration from. From my faculty supervisor: I find that his teaching, learning, and understanding brought a lot of personal and professional value to my degree. From my adjunct professors (who were primarily practitioners): I find that through sharing their particular field in planning, I gained current knowledge and honest working realities that I appreciated deeply. As well, my peers in my program brought so much to the table from their previous work and backgrounds. SCARP attracts students from across multiple disciplines, which is truly a fantastic way to integrate peer-to-peer learning.
What are your plans for the future?
I am hoping to begin my career in the fall as I continue working for my supervisor and at CALP for the summer. I wanted to take my time connecting with individuals in various planning work (public, private, and non-profit) to gain a better sense of the organization’s work, community and culture that I can relate to and share.
The long-term plans may be moving to the island or across the country. So long as I am happy and grateful, I’m excited to see where life will take me!
How will you go on to make a difference in our world?
That’s a big question. I would say one step at a time, big or small. Even a small act of kindness goes a long way. As long as I am moving forward and helping someone out along the way, there’s a difference made right there.
Move forward with effort and integrity; move forward with love and compassion; move forward with your authentic self.