An Architecture Student’s Lesson on Studying Abroad

Florence, Italy.

It happens every year around this time. Students expend every last ounce of focus cramming for finals and finishing projects, with thoughts of summer hounding them from all directions, only to be greeted by friends and family with, “So what are you doing in the fall?”

Rachel Granrath on a field trip while studying abroad in Florence, Italy

For Rachel Granrath, a senior planner in our Spokane office, at the end of her sophomore year in college the answer was, “Studying in Italy!” Then an architecture student at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, Rachel was headed to Florence (aka architecture goldmine).

During her junior year, Rachel spent her days (and many nights) delving into urban design, architecture, city planning, and historic preservation at Palazzo Rucellai, a 15th century palace and one of Florence’s oldest and most prestigious aristocratic residences.

Palazzo Rucellai in Florence, Italy

But to her surprise, instead of cementing her plans to become an architect, the experience redirected her toward her true passion: urban design and planning. “I fell in love with the idea of making a bigger impact to a city’s fabric than just a single building,” she shared.

When she returned to the US, she finished up her bachelor’s degree, then moved west to earn her Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning at Eastern Washington University. And after cutting her professional teeth in the public and private sectors, including serving as the community development director for two Cities in Colorado, Rachel joined SCJ Alliance in June 2019.

Rachel at a community engagement event for the City of Airway Heights redevelopment plan

One example of Rachel’s passion in action is her role as Project Manager helping the City of Bridgeport develop a Downtown Revitalization Plan. From dam-building to agriculture, the city has a rich history and a community that is increasingly multicultural. The revitalization plan is helping citizens realize their vision of embracing these elements in their downtown, along with the recreational opportunities offered by the Columbia River.

Mid-course, the project approach had to be adapted due to COVID-19. “But Rachel successfully redirected SCJ efforts, as well as the City’s Economic Revitalization Committee, keeping the project on schedule and on budget,” said project Principal-in-Charge Eric Johnston. “Her efforts earned enthusiastic compliments from our City partners.”

Rachel showing her twin girls the ropes working from home in 2020

Adding to her forward momentum, Rachel recently earned her planning certification with the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). Her new designation demonstrates her academic qualifications, work experience, and mastery of essential planning skills.

For Rachel, studying abroad was a game changer in getting where she is today. “Diving deeply into my studies in a foreign country helped me get the perspective I needed to zero in on where I wanted to go with my career,” she said.

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