Student Spotlight: Katherine Bernier
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“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” 
–Howard Thurman

Katherine Bernier is a Masters student in City and Regional Planning at Clemson University. She will be graduating in May 2018 with an Environmental Concentration. Her passion for the environment and community building began as a young girl at summer camp in Maine, where she grew up. Over the years Katherine grew a deep appreciation for her surroundings and sought to gain a deeper understanding of how the natural world works. Katherine holds a B.S. in Organic Chemistry and a minor in Mathematics from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine where she wrote her thesis, “Synthetic Studies of Koshikalide,” which fed her analytic mind.

Post College, Katherine grew her career working three key jobs that cumulatively lead her to a degree in planning. The first was a challenging management role that taught her the importance of thoughtful leadership. The second tested her ability to balance multiple roles at once, while delivering on exemplary customer service. The third brought her back to the great outdoors through surface and groundwater monitoring and analysis. Her current master’s thesis is focused on land use and water quality nexus, specifically looking at fecal indicator bacteria. She is passionate about water resources, thoughtful community planning, and bridging the planning/engineering gap. She hopes to continue to help make this world a more beautiful and sustainable place by raising awareness for better practices, implementing change, and forever continuing to grow in this field.

Here’s more about Katherine, in her own words …

Q: Which ACSP member school do you attend?
A: Clemson University

Q: What specialty are you studying?
A: Environmental Planning

Q: Why did you select your particular specialty?
A: I have always had a passion for the great outdoors. I lean on Mother Nature as a stress reliever whether it be a hiking trip or a quick run. I grew up near the ocean and treasure the natural experiences that have helped shaped me into the person I am today. It was intuitive to enter a focus in planning that allowed me to think about nature and people simultaneously.

Q: Do you have a current job or internship in your specialty?
A: I am currently interning with the City of Greenville, South Carolina Environmental Engineering Department. I am learning key engineering concepts, while getting hands on experience with MS4 permitting and helping with educational outreach and policy making.

Q: Is there a particular class or professor that has made a great impact on you? How so? *
A: When I met Dr. Caitlin Dyckman at my first visit to Clemson, well before I applied, I knew my next career move would be working with her. I was lucky to be her graduate assistant my first year, working on NSF funded conservation easement research. She has been a mentor throughout my Clemson career and has challenged me to think about current environmental issues in new ways.

Q: What's your favorite project you’ve worked on, in class or in practice?
A: I would say any project that has forced me to work outside of my comfort zone. As uncomfortable as those experiences have been, they have helped me grow. One example that comes to mind is a semester long group project for the City of Spartanburg, South Carolina. For one component, we decided to dive into a food insecurity concern for a particular census block. I became very interested in trying to solve a multi-decade long issue, while remaining focused on the unique needs of the neighborhood. I learned a lot throughout the project from the research to the presentation.

Q: What future goals do you have in your field?
A: In the words of Miss Rumphius, my favorite childhood book, I want “to make the world more beautiful.” To me that means raising awareness about the natural world and convincing the skeptical that they too can make a difference. I also want to build community across different disciplines to remind everyone that we are all working for the same team.

Q: How has planning school changed your daily habits?
A: I feel that being in school in general is a constant focus on balance. Being a student, while balancing the many responsibilities around you is a challenge. Taking time for your personal life remains important and it is critical to take time to do what fuels your soul. I try to recognize when I need a break, when I need to take time for those around me whether a close friend or a stranger, and I have not stopped doing yoga. Luckily, I learned the value of breath work and yoga in undergrad. I also don’t compromise on eating good food!

Q: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A: I did not have a specific aspiration though I am sure I entertained summer camp director at some point! I am a passionate and enthusiastic person, whom wants to find value in everything I do. I wake up excited for the day ahead and I hope to be a forever sponge, learning and absorbing new knowledge. I have always hoped that I would feel that way in my career.

Q: How many different cities have you lived in and which was your favorite?
A: Ooooo, that’s hard! I definitely fall in love with different aspects of all the places I have lived in. Greenville, South Carolina, yeah THAT Greenville, there is always something going on in my current city and I love being so close to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Land of Waterfalls, while still being able to catch a Broadway show and a farm to table meal all in the same day. Portland, Maine takes the cake for food and down to earth people. Camden, Maine has my heart for the juxtaposition of ocean and mountains, and also food. And finally, Brighton, UK for the accessibility and cobble roads, oh and tea!

Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
A: Sicily. My grandmother was Sicilian and I want to go there to see where my family is from, drink some delicious wine, and eat Mediterranean Italian food.

Q: What is the title of the last book you read? What did you learn from it?
A: Hahaha a planning book? My pleasure reading these days is my monthly subscription to Bon Appétit. The last book I read was for Water Policy and Law was Where the Water Goes by David Owen. This book, along with the course revealed the many challenges that lay ahead for water planning. I feel strongly that the threats to our water, both quality and quantity, need to be pushed to the forefront of future planning no matter how uncomfortable the topic may be. E.coli anyone? Let’s talk feces!

Q: What’s your favorite color and how would you creatively incorporate it into a planning project?
A: Ocean Blue. There is something so magical about the many shades of blue the ocean can portray to the human eye. I like using blue when I make maps. Being engaged to a color blind person and having a colorblind student in my class, I am cognizant of using colors that are easier to differentiate when relaying a concept, especially in GIS.


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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