Monday, January 8, 2018

Name: Tara Cullison Walters

Originally from: Hillsdale, IL

Degree: M.S. Urban and Regional Planning, concentrations in Land Use and Environmental Planning; GIS

Graduating class: 2018

Tara Cullison is a second-year student in the School of Urban and Regional Planning’s graduate program who concentrates on land use and environmental planning and GIS.

Cullison worked for two years after an undergraduate degree as a program manager for a sustainability research center. Working with real world issues in the community and developing strategies for city officials and staff to solve problems was what solidified Cullison’s decision to seek a graduate degree in urban and regional planning. “I applied to Iowa, knowing I would end up in the Midwest after graduate school. I was searching for a relevant education and the opportunity to learn skills that were pertinent to working in more rural areas,” Cullison says.

Tara Cullison

The native of Hillsdale, Ill., is currently using her planning skills to help develop a comprehensive plan for Cedar County that guides future development by addressing transportation, economic development, and environmental concerns among other issues. Professors John Fuller and Scott Spak are advising the students on the plan as part of the Field Problems in Planning capstone course.

Cullison’s contribution to the plan deals primarily with residential development patterns and agricultural land use. Should Cedar County base its development decisions on agricultural preservation or building a higher tax base through the creation of residential units?

“That’s the big question. The goal of the comprehensive plan is to find a happy medium,” Cullison says. “County leaders feel like there needs to be more people, and they’re especially interested in attracting younger families. But the majority of the land is for farming.”

“I am interested in regional planning—the combination of working in urban and rural landscapes and how they intermingle. The Cedar County comprehensive plan provides me the perfect preparation for a career in regional planning,” says Cullison, who earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill.

Cullison’s work on Cedar County’s comprehensive plan is the second community project that has helped shape her as a planner.

Last spring, Cullison worked with two faculty on the English River Watershed project in southern Johnson and northern Washington Counties. This project was part of the Environmental Management class.

“We worked on water quality and water quantity issues. That experience was amazing and really enhanced my understanding of rural watershed management in Iowa,” Cullison says.

Cullison claims the opportunities provided by the Urban and Regional Planning program have been valuable experiences, in addition to the education. “Experiences gained from my assistantship, internship, conferences, and class projects have very much enhanced my planning knowledge,” Cullison says. “The program does a great job at informing students of internship and job opportunities throughout the area and across the nation.” Cullison worked as the conservation intern for the summer and fall of 2017 for the Johnson County Soil & Water Conservation District.