CMU geography class work to be included in upcoming Mount Pleasant master plan update

The city of Mount Pleasant will update its master plan later this year and the work of nine Central Michigan University students will be included.

When Xiao Guang Wang, assistant professor of urban planning, transportation and human geography, came to CMU a few years ago, she said she always knew she wanted her students to collaborate with the city.

The opportunity finally came last spring for her GEO 531: Integrated Land Use Planning class.

“Last year, Jeff Gray (director of planning and community development in Mount Pleasant) sent me an email saying the city was updating the master plan, and the 2010 census data was also just released,” Wang said. “We thought it was a perfect project for the students because they could help participate in the master plan updating process and use what they had learned in class to help the city.”

Gray had previously been to Wang’s classes to give lectures, but this was a chance for students to gain real experience for their final project.

The students were split into three groups to look at the breakdown of population, housing and socioeconomic status within Mount Pleasant.

The groups were tasked with downloading the newly released census data and completing an analysis and write up of their findings.

“The nice thing about the project is that each of the groups had at least one student with a Geographic Information System background,” Wang said. “They could put the data into a program and make maps to see things, like what the population density looked like in an area by age and gender or where owner-occupied housing was.”

Gray came into the class a few times during the semester to check on the progress of the groups and guide them.

The class was structured like a consulting firm, Gray said, and the groups received an outline of what Mount Pleasant expected them to come up with from their data.

“We didn’t really know what to expect,” Gray said. “When I was in graduate school, I did a project like this, but I’d never led a project like this and it was the first time the professor was able to do a real world project. Overall, we were so pleased with how smoothly it went and the product they produced.”

In late April, the groups presented their reports at City Hall to the Planning Commission.

Commissioners then decided to adopt the updates provided by the students and will incorporate the reports in the Master Plan when it is finalized.

Luna Pier senior Marisa Laderach was part of the group looking at housing data.

Laderach said working on the project allowed her and her classmates to go from working in an academic environment to a professional one.

“This gave us new insight and experience we could not get at CMU alone,” she said. “When we did our research, we didn’t know at first if it would actually be involved in the master plan. It’s a really big accomplishment and I think we’re all really proud of that.”

Gray said the master plan is still being worked on and will hopefully be completed by the end of 2013.


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