May 31, 2019 - 10:45am
After conducting research that took her around the world, Master of Community Planning alum Lainy Nowak is working as a Planning Assistant in the City of Nanaimo’s Community Development Department.
As a Planning Assistant with the City of Nanaimo, there is no such thing as a typical day for Lainy Nowak.
The Vancouver Island University (VIU) Master of Community Planning alumna, who started work as the city’s newest Planning Assistant earlier this year, finds that each day brings new challenges and learning opportunities that keep her on her toes. From helping the public understand land-use within the City, to supporting development permits and applications that represent growth and change in the community, Nowak is amazed by all of the exciting things happening in Nanaimo and thrilled to be part of it.
“I feel grateful to be in a position that allows me to shape the community I live in,” says Nowak, who crosses the stage on June 5 to accept her degree. “Not only am I at the start of an exciting career because the MCP program set me up for success, but I also find myself in a naturally stunning city in one of the most beautiful places in Canada. It can’t get much better than this.”
Growing up in Prince George, Nowak completed an undergraduate degree in political science and international studies, along with a public administration certificate, at the University of Northern British Columbia. Like many undergrads, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after graduating, so she taught English in Japan for a year. When Nowak came back, she worked at the City of Prince George in a role that allowed her to see how different departments function within a municipality.
“Development and Planning really seemed to be where all the buzz and excitement was coming from, however I was faced with a ‘glass ceiling’ on how far I could advance within the city without further education, so I decided to apply for planning school,” she remembers. “To my surprise, I was accepted into master of planning programs across the country. In the end, I chose Nanaimo because you can’t beat being close to the mountains and the ocean.”
Nowak has never regretted her decision. She says the hands-on experiences she’s had access to at VIU have ultimately helped her get the job she’s in now. For example, she helped Dr. Pam Shaw, Director of the MCP program, start a peer-reviewed online academic journal called Future Plans. As editor of the journal, which accepts submissions from students, professional planners, consultants and researchers across Canada, Nowak created a website, engaged a panel of reviewers, put out calls for submissions and helped edit the journal.
“There’s not many platforms out there to help graduate students share what they’re researching. Future Plans fills that gap and gives students something to put on their resumé,” she says.
For the past couple years, Nowak has conducted some exciting research of her own on a timely topic – how to help cities better prepare for natural disasters and climate change. As part of this, she travelled to Christchurch, New Zealand last year, funded by a Queen Elizabeth Scholarship, to work with that city’s Civil Defence and Emergency Management department. In February 2011, a 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck 10 kilometres southeast of Christchurch, causing nearly 200 deaths and a massive amount of damage to structures. Nowak was there to discover what lessons city officials learned that could apply to other communities.
“We are seeing the effects of climate change worldwide,” she says. “The frequency of severe weather events continues to increase, and we know that it’s only a matter of time before the West Coast experiences a large earthquake. My research explores how planning and policy can help shape cities before an event happens in order to save lives, ensure faster recovery and improve the well-being of people who live in the community.”
Shaw says Nowak’s research project was not only interesting, it also addressed a knowledge gap – both here and in New Zealand.
“Lainy is an amazing ambassador for our program – she exemplifies all of the practical, applied approaches we strive to achieve, while also maintaining her enthusiasm for solving problems and creating safe and welcoming places."
Nowak says learning from Shaw and other faculty, many of whom have experience as both planners and academics, as well as her peers, has been an amazing experience.
“I can’t express my gratitude towards VIU enough,” she says. “Talking to students in other planning schools, I’ve realized they have not had as many opportunities to get hands-on experiences like we have had at VIU.”
Jenn McGarrigle, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University