Student Spotlight: Leah Sheppard
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Leah Sheppard is a Master of Professional Studies candidate in Sustainable Urban Planning with a concentration in Climate Change Management and Policy at The George Washington University. She is expected to graduate in the Spring of 2018.

"Leah is an incredibly sharp student with an outstanding career ahead of her. She is exactly the kind of professional that the Sustainable Urban Planning Program was designed to attract: a forward-looking planner, who will help advance the field by facing down the new and complicated problems of the 21st Century,” said Program Director Dr. John Carruthers. “We look forward to following Leah's accomplishments in the program and beyond!"

A Philadelphia native, Leah has a substantial background working in local and state government as well as the non-profit sector. Her passion for urban planning was sparked during an internship with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council amid the roll out of the Green City, Clean Waters plan, where she consulted local businesses on best practices in storm water management. She is currently the graduate student intern for the Center for Sustainability at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) where she supports the Urban Resilience program. She is also a consultant for The World Bank’s 2017 Conference on Land and Poverty. Previously, Leah worked in the Pennsylvania Governor's Office of Public Liaison, facilitating statewide board and commission appointments that focused on environment and health related issues.

Leah holds a bachelor’s degree in Community, Environment, and Development and a minor in Political Science from The Pennsylvania State University. “During my undergraduate career, I particularly enjoyed working on the capstone project,” shares Leah. “My team and I analyzed how a small town in central Pennsylvania successfully reversed a trend of economic distress through a commitment to supporting local businesses and agriculture as well as a community engagement process that established new networks of cooperation and co-benefit.”

In her free time, Leah enjoys live music, being active, and Philadelphia sporting events.

Here’s more on our Q & A with Leah:

Q: What specialty are you studying?
A: Climate Change Management and Policy

Q: Why did you select your particular specialty?
A: Global cities and their surrounding metropolitan areas are urbanizing at an extremely fast rate. This factor compounded by the changing climate and its inherent stresses lead me to want to study this specialty. Understanding these complexities will be crucial when informing decision makers on how to incorporate sustainable and resilient policies.

Q: Is there a particular class or professor that has made a great impact on you? How so?
A: I am currently taking a class called the Scientific Basis of Climate Change which is taught by Dr. Rachael Jonassen. I don't believe it is standard for urban planning students to take such a science heavy course but it has changed the way I interpret, communicate, and shaped opinions about the changing climate. Although quite difficult, this class is proving to be incredibly beneficial because I believe that it is important for those potentially influencing policy makers, to have a strong understanding of anthropogenic climate change, as it is still somewhat contested.

Q: What's your favorite project you’ve worked on, in class or in practice?
A: ULI will release a report on stormwater management and its impact on real estate this spring. As city policies are evolving to require and/or incentivize the private sector's participation in meeting management goals, this report explains how green infrastructure can be used to achieve policy thresholds and create value in real estate projects. My role as a contributing author has allowed me to reflect on the lessons that I've learned in my classes at GW and other experiences throughout my career, while incorporating my interest in sustainable development.

Q: What future goals do you have in your field?
A: In the long term, I hope to run for public office. However, in the meantime, I plan to continue learning on a local level, how cities can become economically and environmentally resilient and gain more experience in the private sector.

Q: How has planning school changed your daily habits?
A: My program encourages me to take a step back and view issues from a range of angles where I previously probably would have preferred to drill into one. It is important to gear results based on a multidisciplinary view that takes into consideration social, environmental, and economic impacts.

Q: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A: When I was younger, I wanted to be a photographer because it would allow me to travel the world and tell stories about peoples' lives.

Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
A: If I could travel anywhere in the world, I would love to go to Thailand. I would love to experience the culture and of course try the local foods.

Q: What is the title of the last book you read? What did you learn from it?
A: The last book I read was The New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti and if you know me, you know that I haven't been able to stop talking about it since assigned in my Urban and Environmental Economics course. The book discusses the concept of diverging cities in terms of economic success and how in a world of rapid globalization, humans may possibly still be dependent on physical proximity and face to face interactions. I found this book particularly fascinating given what is happening in rust belt cities today.


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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