News & Press: ACSP Annual Conference News

A Closer Look with Award Winner Lillian Jacobson

Monday, January 30, 2017  
Share |

ACSP/MIT Don Schön Award for Excellence in Learning from Practice

Drawing Outside the Lines: Participatory Design in Unincorporated Communities
Lillian Jacobson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Lillian Jacobson submitted her Master’s thesis in 2015 (a year in which no award was given), under the supervision of Jota Samper. The thesis is entitled, “Drawing Outside the Lines: Participatory Design in Unincorporated Communities.” It chronicles and analyses Lillian’s collaboration with high-school students from a marginalized community in Santa Rose, California. In a note to the committee after being notified of her award, Lillian wrote that her work with young people had “expanded [her] understanding of true community-based design . . . and taught [her] the power young voices can have in planning the future of our cities.” Her thesis documents her successful attempts to elicit reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action among high-school students and shows her own reflection on that experience.

ACSP recently connected with Lilly to find out more about this accomplishment.

How did you feel when you won the award?
I was honored and proud that my work with high school students in Santa Rosa was recognized, but mostly I was excited that the students' voices were reaching a broader audience. Their passionate engagement demonstrated the importance of co-creation, and taught me the power youth voices can have in planning the future of our cities. Winning the Donald Schon award further invigorated my drive to engage young people in planning and design processes.

Who do you want to thank, if any?
I want to thank Jota Samper for his inspiration and unparalleled advising on this project—he pushed me to challenge my own assumptions about young people and to think critically about my understanding of race, class, and marginalized communities. He taught me the importance of reflective practice when working with oppressed groups, and profoundly influenced how I approach community engagement. I also could not have done this work without Lisa DeCarbo, the English teacher at Elsie Allen High School who welcomed me into her classroom and community. She saw the value of engaging her students in their neighborhood issues, and helped me design a process that will shape my future work with young people. And most of all, I want to thank the students at Elsie Allen High School who brought enthusiasm, critical thinking, and deep community knowledge to our process together.

What inspired you about this process?
The young people I worked with inspired me more than I could have anticipated. They showed me how powerful their perspectives are, and they inspired me with their motivation to improve their communities. Youth provide valuable insights about the public realm, and they are the future of our cities--they should be given an opportunity to lead the way and create a more equitable and inclusive society.

What's next?
I am currently a Project Associate at MIG (a planning and design firm in Berkeley, California that specializes in community engagement), and I am working on expanding our youth engagement services. I hope to continue to learn from young people and to identify creative ways to engage youth in planning and design processes. At some point in the future, I plan to get my PhD in urban planning with an emphasis on youth engagement and education.

Lilly's Bio
Lilly Jacobson supports MIG’s urban design and planning practice through innovation and implementation of community-oriented planning and urban design projects. She provides community outreach, public engagement, graphic, writing and ideation support on a large range of projects, from specific plans to open space plans throughout the country. She specializes in youth participation, designing and facilitating creative methods for young people to engage in planning processes. Her youth-oriented activities focus on building capacity and knowledge through interactive planning and design exercises, including budgeting games, mapping activities, model-building projects, field trips and walking tours.

Prior to MIG, Lilly was Community Planner for the Fenway Community Development Corporation in Boston, Massachusetts and the Assistant City Planner for the City of Albany, California. She has a Masters of City Planning with a Certificate in Urban Design from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

About ACSP Awards
Each year ACSP is proud to honor faculty and students who have distinguished themselves or made major contributions to the academy or to the profession via outreach efforts, public service or for service to ACSP, the Academy, or the profession. A complete listing and history for all awards can be found at

The Donald A. Schön Award for Reflective Practice is given to two students this year: Lillian Jacobson, of MIT, and Madeleine Koch, of the University of Manitoba. The committee congratulates both Lillian and Madeleine for their well-written, thoughtful and inspiring work. It shows how much can be achieved when planning students set out to empower communities and to learn from practice.

The 2016 Donald A. Schön Award Committee includes: Committee Chair Raphaël Fischler, McGill University; Robert Goodspeed, University of Michigan; Langley Keyes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Sarah Kuhn, University of Massachusetts; Jonathan Richmond, independent scholar; and Elizabeth Schön Vanier.


The Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning promotes education, research, service and outreach in the United States and throughout the world by seeking to:

  • recognize diverse needs and interests in planning;
  • improve and enhance the accreditation process, and;
  • strengthen the role of planning education in colleges and universities through publications, conferences, and community engagement;
  • extend planning beyond the classroom into the world of practice.