Looking Ahead With Alumnus Frank Alarcon

Portrait of Frank Alarcon (MURP '18)
Frank Alarcon (MURP '18) is working for Ramsey County as a transit planner.

We caught up with Frank Alarcon as he completed his Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree, and was preparing to graduate in May 2018.

Why did you choose to attend the Humphrey School?

I moved to Minneapolis in 2015 after serving in the Peace Corps, and got involved with my neighborhood organization. Soon I had this epiphany that urban planning is where all of my longtime interests in politics and public service come together in one profession.

I had this moment of clarity, and said, OK, well, I should get a master's degree in this. So you could say the Humphrey School chose me, because I lived here and I had decided I should be an urban planner, and fortunately the Humphrey School has a good urban planning program.

Urban planning is a profession that is kind of invisible if you’re not in it. Growing up, I didn’t know any urban planners, so it was not a field that was on my radar until suddenly it was. So I quickly pivoted, applied to the Humphrey School, and fortunately they let me in.

What Work Did You Do Here?

One thing that was really helpful for me at Humphrey was doing client-based projects in classes. I came to the Humphrey School with no real exposure to the local world of urban planning. I hardly knew any local planners, and I didn’t have a sense of what jobs planners do at cities versus the state, versus the counties. So having the opportunity all four semesters to do client projects was a great benefit.

I did projects with the City of Brooklyn Park and the City of Ramsey through the Resilient Communities Project, and with Hennepin County and Metro Transit. I think those opportunities built my comfort level with interacting with professional planners even though I was new to the field.

It was also helpful learning what city planners are thinking about in terms of their challenges, such as the education issues they are worried about in Brooklyn Park or water resources management in Ramsey. The opportunity to start doing real work in the field as a Humphrey student was really valuable to me, in contrast to my undergrad, which was more theoretical, not practice-oriented.

What’s Next?

I did my internship at Ramsey County, originally in the county manager’s office with the economic development and redevelopment group. Because I’m interested in transit, I slowly finagled my way onto the transit planning team. The county is leading two major transit projects: the Rush Line, which is a bus rapid transit line from St. Paul to White Bear Lake, and the Riverview Corridor, which is a future streetcar line from downtown St. Paul to the airport and the Mall of America.

Over the course of my internship in the summer and part-time during fall semester, I got more and more intertwined with those projects, and it’s a small team there so they could really use me. So when the time came to post a position I had an edge after being there for nine months.

Now I’m the deputy project manager for the Rush Line project. We’re in the early stages of planning, getting our environmental document prepared for the project, so there’s a lot of coordination between government agencies.

You have the Minnesota Department of Transportation and five cities along the corridor that each have their stations. They’re interested in what the stations will look like and the zoning and land use around the stations, so it’s a lot of coordinating, communicating a complex project with a diverse set of stakeholders. It’s fun work, and I really enjoy it.

What Are You Taking from the Humphrey School?

I think as a MURP, one thing that’s been really heartening for me is how cool the local planning community is. They are really supportive and doing this work for the right reasons. It seems like half of the planners in this region came out of the Humphrey School.

So when we bond around our two years at Humphrey, that we all did a capstone, and we took the same classes, it places us in a local professional community that’s very supportive and a great resource. There’s a natural kinship when you meet a MURP at another agency and you need to resolve some technical issue; you have that Humphrey background in common, and that facilitates the relationship.