October 6, 2011
Just one year ago, Community and Regional Planning graduate student Chris Hurwitz was on a decidedly different career path.
For five and a half years, Hurwitz had managed the technical programs department of the Solid Waste Association of North America, educating and training solid waste employees throughout the United States. With a keen interest in “leading and planning larger and more impactful environmental management projects,” he decided to depart from that path, move from Maryland to Pennsylvania and pursue a master’s in Community and Regional Planning at Temple full time.
Fast forward to today.
“Twelve months ago, I was in an office managing a department and conducting training,” he said. “Twelve months later, I’m 30 credits into my master’s program and I have an opportunity to head to China. I never would have thought that would be happening in a million years.”
Hurwitz is the first student heading to Beijing, China, as part of an exchange program with Beijing Forestry University, a program spearheaded in part by Dr. Jeffrey Featherstone, Director of the Center for Sustainable Community and Professor of Community and Regional Planning and formally established by Temple’s Office of International Affairs.
“In the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to make several presentations to faculty and students in China related to stormwater management and flooding. I was asked to give lectures and talk with administrators at Beijing Forestry University, a connection made with the assistance of Dr. Jun Yang who was teaching in Temple’s Department of Landscape and Horticulture,” said Dr. Featherstone, who most recently visited China in 2010 to participate in a sustainability conference and will return once again at the end of October as the only American presenter at a week-long conference hosted by the International Society of City and Regional Planners.
During the 2010 trip, Dr. Featherstone said he spent “considerable time with the head of Beijing Forestry’s international affairs office discussing the framework for an exchange program and what a research agreement between the two universities might look like.”
“We worked very closely with Brooke Walker (Assistant Vice President, Global Partnerships and Programs & International Student and Scholar Services, in Temple’s Office of International Affairs) to officially create a faculty and student exchange program,” he said. “Stormwater management is a huge issue in China. There is very little stormwater infrastructure in major and developing cities — infiltration systems, detention facilities, swales — all things that we research and promote in the Center for Sustainable Communities. The reality is that these systems need to be put in place; it’s the type of research that is ripe for collaboration.”
Six Beijing Forestry University administrators visited Temple in April 2011 to help lay the groundwork for potential student and faculty exchanges. During the summer of 2011, three faculty members from Beijing Forestry also visited Temple to take part in the University’s “Provost’s Teaching Academy,” a five-week course that prepares faculty to instruct graduate students who are focused on teaching and academic careers. Undergraduates from the university will also be attending Temple in spring 2012, according to Ingrid Spangler, Communications Manager for the Office of International Affairs, just as Hurwitz makes his trip to China.
Hurwitz, 33, said once he heard that there was an opportunity to spend a semester in China, he didn’t hesitate.
“I think it is important to take advantage of every opportunity and learning experience that you are given. This program is giving me the opportunity to participate in the world’s fastest growing economy and witness urbanization on a scale not seen before in our lifetime — urbanization that brings with it activities that have the potential for great environmental damage,” he said. “Making connections and building relationships with international consulting companies presents an opportunity to affect positive change for the environment and promote sustainable development on the greatest scale. I think the best use of my education is to do whatever I can to help ensure that we are collaborating to learn how to do things better environmentally and sustainably — so that we can do things better the first time.”
Dr. Deborah Howe, Chair of the Department of Community and Regional Planning, believes the exchange program with Beijing Forestry is an “extraordinary opportunity as (China) faces significant environmental and social challenges.”
“It’s a fascinating place to be as a planner and I think it is a place where our students can contribute a great deal,” she said. “I’m thrilled that Chris is taking advantage of this opportunity. It takes a unique person to do this, to forge new ground for future students both at Temple and in Beijing.”
This isn’t the first time Hurwitz has taken on an adventure far from home. Certainly the climate in China should be a little more welcoming than the numbing temperatures of a tiny village in the Arctic Circle.
“I spent five months in the Arctic Circle through a partnership between the anthropology department of SUNY (State University of New York) Plattsburgh and Hope Community Resources, which provides support services for native Alaskans experiencing disabilities. I took a six-seated prop plan with one other student 150 miles northeast into the tundra to a little town called Nuiqsit,” he said. “When you have six months with no sunrise or sunset, there is no 24-hour rhythm to the village; no 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work day. You sleep when the work is done and develop a feel for when you’re needed and where. It was a great experience and I’m looking forward to finding out what new experiences are ahead of me.”
For more information about the Beijing Forestry University Exchange Program, contact the Department of Community and Regional Planning at 267-468-8300.