Student spotlight: Municipal experiences enhance Shealynn Wegner’s academic experiences

Shealynn Wegner’s experiences working with two Wisconsin municipalities while at the University of Wisconsin–Madison solidifed her decision to pursue planning and urban design as a career and illuminated the professional opportunities in local government.  

Shealynn Wegner

Wegner is a senior and double majoring in landscape and urban studies and community environmetnal sociology. She is also earning a certificate in environmental studies, architecture, graphic design, food systems, and leadership. After graduating in May, Wegner plans to start work with an architecture planning firm called ISG, Inc. in Green Bay.  

“I am professionally interested in pursuing a degree in the planning and urban design field, especially focusing on sustainability and ethical community engagement, and how to create spaces for all kinds of people to improve life,” Wegner said.  

As an Affirmative Action Student Professionals In Residence (AASPIRE) intern for the City of Madison, Wegner worked in the Planning Division on area plans, community engagement, and technical writing. She participated in the inagural UniverCity Alliance Scholars Program and worked with the Village of Cottage Grove on plans to make the community more friendly for pedestrians and bicyclists.  

“I’ve been impressed to no end with the people who work in local government,” Wegner said. “They’re really just such passionate people.”  

Read more about Wegner’s experiences in this Q&A. The city and UniverCity are accepting applications for their programs, and the deadline for both is April 1. Apply for the AASPIRE internship here and the UniverCity Alliance Scholars Program here. 

What led to your interest in community planning?  

When I first started learning about environmental issues and climate change and how that disproportionately affects certain communities, I really felt this call to action to work on sustainability efforts, especially rooted in communities. Coming to college, I started in environmental studies because I knew that that was the primary focus that I wanted to be centered around. I was looking for a second major to go along with that, and I came across community environmental sociology. It’s a really good foundation to learn about how people’s identities create their intersectionality of experiences and understanding how the built and natural environments are all connected to people’s health outcomes and experiences with the food system. When I actually learned what urban planning was, I realized this is exactly what I wanted to do when working with the landscape and how we can create these communities to work better for the people who live there and how to just foster better relationships.  

You began your internship with the City of Madison last summer, and it was extended through the Spring 2024 semester. Could you share more about your experiences with the city? 

I was fortunate enough to be selected within the Planning Division. I’m able to get work on two planning teams. I’ve done a ton of community engagement – general outreach and also specific public engagement. That’s been very, very valuable. Being able to really see this plan process past the internship phase, and being able to do technical writing on entire chapters and call-out boxes, some graphic design work on infographics for the plan, as well as some 3D renderings of specific corridors – it’s been really amazing to work on all aspects of the plan.  

What interested you in applying for the UniverCity Alliance Scholars Program?  

I first learned about UniverCity when I took Urban and Regional Planning 215: Welcome to Your Urban Future. UniverCity Alliance Managing Director Gavin Luter was the one who was teaching at that time, and so it was really great introduction to the program. I loved the idea of the partnership between communities and UniverCity. That’s exactly the kind of experience that I wanted to get. I was so happy to find out that I was selected for the program, and I was paired with the Village of Cottage Grove. The Welcome to Your Urban Future class was one of the first classes that I took that made me feel confident that urban planning was my future. 

What bike and pedestrian infrastructure project did you work on in Cottage Grove?  

Cottage Grove wants to become a bicycle-friendly community as designated by the American Federation of Bicyclists. My primary objective in Fall 2023 was to help them prepare to apply. The application actually closes in June. We took a step back, and we decided to create an implementation plan of how Cottage Grove can get to where they need to be to become (designated at the bronze level). I drafted an implementation plan with recommendations. For their purposes, this implementation plan would sit within their bike and pedestrian plan that will get approved by committees in the next couple of months. That has evolved into me staying on with Cottage Grove. I’m helping with wording and technical writing in the plan and graphic design improvements and general layout of the document itself. 

What skills did you learn throughout this project and has it affected the way you’re thinking about future jobs and careers?  

There’s a lot of tangible experience in project management and doing independent research. It’s given me a lot of experience in the technical details of what a plan should be and an understanding of municipal government and trying to reduce bureaucracy as much as possible. Just because something potentially could look good from the academic standpoint doesn’t mean it’s the most practical solution for a small government. My new job is at a consulting firm, and they work in the private sector and with government. Having that foundation and understanding how municipalities of various sizes work can inform how you can be a better consultant. 

As a student, how have your experiences influenced your outlook on local government?  

I’ve been impressed to no end with the people who work here. They’re really just such passionate people. It really has reaffirmed my confidence in the system, if you will, and understanding that the people who are taking charge of local government positions genuinely care for the best interest of the community. They’re fighting and pushing everyday to make those really cool things happen. 

What’s something you would like to have known going into UniverCity Alliance project? 

With any new opportunity, there’s a lot of uncertainty. Learning how to embrace that uncertainty, and see it as an opportunity instead of a potential source of stress or anxiety is a really valuable trait I think anyone should have.  

Also, understanding that you just need to meet these municipalities where they’re at is important. I wish I would have listened a little bit more. I brainstormed all these different solutions (for the Cottage Grove project), and we jumped into an idea that I had. This project changed form four times, and so it was a lot of redirecting the work. I think if you just remember to sit tight for a second and listen just a little bit more, I think that can make your work a more efficient and productive.  

—Abigail Becker