Student Spotlight: Nicholas Ryu
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After growing up in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, Nicholas C. Ryu attended the College of William and Mary (2013) and double-majored in Sociology & Environmental Policy. While in college, Nicholas was an active member of the Kappa Delta Rho national fraternity and served as the Sustainability Chair of Alma Mater Productions (a campus programming board dedicated to promoting sustainability and environmentally-related events for students). Nicholas also completed a summer internship for the Environmental Protection Agency working on closeout project documents for Project XL.

Upon graduation, Nicholas yearned to explore other sustainability-related fields as he sought to cultivate his young professional career. He first worked for DuraCoat Products Inc. as an Environmental Health and Safety Intern. He then finished one term of AmeriCorps Service working for the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. Following that, he became an ORISE Fellow for the Department of Energy’s State Energy Program (from 2014 to 2016) where he focused on supporting staff with grants project management, analyzing energy metric data, and attending energy-related conferences throughout the country.

Realizing that cities are the nexus of population growth, large environmental impacts, technology, and innovation, Nicholas chose to attend the University of Southern California’s MPL program in the Price School of Public Policy as a Dean’s Merit Scholarship recipient.

Seeking to start his career in his hometown of Los Angeles by learning about Los Angeles sustainability issues and developing professional connections, Nicholas has taken advantage of numerous opportunities offered through his MPL graduate program. His graduate student experience so far has been very fruitful. He is working on his third internship with the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments EnergyWise program. His previous internships included working with the Los Angeles Clean Technology Incubator (on grant task deliverables for the Regional Energy Innovation Cluster team), as well as the Beach Cities Health District where he analyzed Vision Zero traffic collision data and rewrote the Green Team office sustainability plan.

Nicholas is an advocate for his graduate program as well, serving as the vice president for the Associated Students for Planning and Development and a Price Student Ambassador.

Academically, Nicholas enjoys the student curriculum and learning opportunities provided by his graduate program. He enjoyed doing research with Professor Marlon Boarnet on a California Department of Transportation white paper studying the “Economic Benefits of Placemaking.” Sustainable Land-Use Concentration’s Methodology and Smart Cities & Climate Change Infrastructure Brazil Laboratory are his two favorite classes as they relate to his interests in energy analysis methodology, and planning.

Upon his graduation in May of 2018, Nicholas hopes to work for either a local or regional government agency, or utility in Los Angeles related to sustainability and renewable energy planning and then move onto a Ph.D. program in Urban Planning or Environmental Policy.

In his free time, Nicholas enjoys ultimate Frisbee, basketball, stand-up comedy, playing videogames, and attending his United Methodist Church.

Here’s more from our conversation with Nicholas:

Q: Which ACSP member school do you attend? 
A: University of Southern California 

Q: What specialty are you studying?
A: Sustainable Land-Use Planning

Q: Why did you select your particular specialty? 
A: I chose my concentration because it encompasses classes that most relate to my interests in sustainability and energy planning. Furthermore, I believe that the issues and methods taught in my concentration will further enhance my knowledge and skills to succeed in accomplishing assignments and tasks in my internships and future career. 

Q: Do you have a current job or internship in your specialty?
A: My next internship will be with the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments. I will help with their EnergyWise program's public outreach events, energy assessments for public and commercial buildings, and policy research related to energy efficiency and utilities.

Q: Is there a particular class or professor that has made a great impact on you? How so? 
A: I am really looking forward to taking my Brazil laboratory class this summer focusing on how smart cities and big data can be used to create resilient climate change infrastructure in Rio de Janeiro. We have done preliminary research related to understanding city governance, technology assets, and culture of our site area and I'm excited to actually be in Rio de Janeiro as it is my first time to Brazil and my first experience studying abroad. Understanding how governance and planning works through a foreign lens, as well as creating project solutions that will help the environment and people, is also an experience that I will cherish as a graduate student and for the rest of my life. 

Q: What's your favorite project you’ve worked on, in class or in practice? 
A: It is hard to pick one because planning is so dynamic and comprehensive in nature. With that being said, I really enjoyed working on an Urban Heat Island Effect group project for my methodology class. It was great to collaborate with other non-planning students (an engineer and an architect), create a neighborhood design analysis of a project site area in Los Angeles, and ultimately present our findings and recommendations to the Los Angeles Mayor's Chief Resiliency Officer. 

I hope to work for either a local or regional government agency, or utility in Los Angeles (such as the Los Angeles Mayor's Office of Sustainability or Los Angeles County) related to sustainability and renewable energy planning for at least a few years and then move onto a Ph.D. program in Urban Planning or Environmental Policy. Then, I hope to become a professor that can teach students about sustainability and energy planning in urban areas while also being a mentor that can help students start their sustainability or urban planning career.

Q: How has planning school changed your daily habits? 
A: Studying planning makes you very self-conscious of your daily habits and lifestyle. Notably is that I try to use public transit or walk as much as possible instead of riding in cars (to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, exercise more, and cherish my ability to "be" and "explore" new places and city neighborhoods instead of just ignoring places as I drive past them).

I also think it has enhanced my cultural knowledge and critically think how peoples' lives will change in cities over time due to new planning initiatives or if planning will be affected with new technological innovation or cultural change.

Q: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A: I wanted to be a lot of different things such as an Air Force pilot, park ranger, or a pastor. I think being a planning professional or professor are my new dreams, as I ultimately want a career where I can protect, serve, and help others in some direct form.

Q: How many different cities have you lived in and which was your favorite?
A: I've lived in 6 different cities mostly on the East and West Coasts. At the moment, Washington D.C. takes the cake because of how walkable and verdant it was. This question really makes me nostalgic.

Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
A: I've always wanted to visit New Zealand or Australia because I've seen pictures of how beautiful it is "down under." Both are majestic and serene places and just peak my exotic curiosity probably because I could see myself totally relaxed in these nature-filled places. New Zealand, because of its setting for Lord of the Rings. Australia, because of its landscape, people, the diverse fauna and flora, and its existent (but slowly diminishing :( ) Great Barrier Reef.

Q: What is the title of the last book you read? What did you learn from it?
A: My little brother, for my recent birthday, gave me a book by Cameron called "A Dog's Purpose." I've always loved dogs and wanted to have one as a kid growing up but never did. It's funny how people imagine a dog would think and act since they are such beautiful, loyal, and altruistic creatures. I've learned that they really do like and depend on us, which makes me think about how humanity doesn't deserve them but also how people should learn to be more altruistic and caring towards others too. As a planner, I hope I can make solutions that really do help others in the long-run and for their future.

Q: What’s your favorite color and how would you creatively incorporate it into a planning project?
A: I love these questions! I've thought about this more than I probably should have in my life, but I really do appreciate the color silver. To me it represents versatility, balance, prosperity, and serenity, which are traits I want to incorporate into my life.

I'd incorporate silver into a planning project presentation background talking about reaching certain project goals that have peoples' quality-of-life and well-being in mind (such as through Vision Zero or EcoDistricts/Transformative Climate Change Communities). This would show that planning can achieve an ideal world with cities that are safe, clean, and affordable communities.


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.


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