Building better communities
Ethan Greene knows a thing or two about exploring new cities.
The 24 year-old graduate student at Clemson University hasn’t lived in the same place for more than 12 months since he began his freshman year of undergrad at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. This wanderlust suits him well for a career in city planning, transportation, and economic development.
Ethan has his sights set on a career that will empower him to help build smart, fiscally-responsible communities through means like transportation design and economic development. We talked with him about his journey so far, and what he hopes to accomplish next.
Finding his niche
Ethan has known for some time now that he wanted a career that would allow him to create meaningful change on a local scale.
That desire was first evident in Ethan’s interest in the law. Fueled by his experiences with mock trial in high school, Ethan entered his freshman year at UTC with his eye on law school after undergrad. To this end, he majored in political science and continued his involvement with mock trial on an even more competitive scale.
“Mock trial is by far my favorite college experience,” Ethan said. “Many of my closest friends post-graduation came from mock trial, which was my competitive outlet and an opportunity to travel the country with my friends. We were part of the first team from UTC to earn a bid to the national competition, and we were able to travel to LA for four days with 47 of the top schools in the country.”
As if that didn’t keep him busy enough, Ethan found many more ways to get involved on campus.
“I tried to be as involved as possible,” he said. “I started out with student government and mock trial, got involved in campus ministry and Greek life, and was a participant in several student political organizations.”
Ethan said that a 2015 internship in Washington, D.C. (followed by a full-time position there last year) reaffirmed the fact that a career in some sort of public service work was right for him.
“My focus during my senior year was public policy in the local community, which, during my first year of professional work in DC, grew into an interest in city or urban planning, which has in turn lead to my pursuit of a masters degree,” Ethan explained.
So how did he settle on Clemson as his school of choice?
“I knew I wanted to remain in the southeast long-term,” Ethan said. “I think it’s important to make your place better, to keep strong roots, and to be near family. So I only looked at programs in the south, which included UNC, Georgia Tech, Memphis, and Clemson. Clemson struck me as the school that offered the best mix of affordability, quality of campus, and quality of education and opportunities.”
Ethan said that he’s always known he’s wanted an advanced degree; he assumed for a long time that law school would be his avenue to get one. Then he considered a master’s in public policy (“would NOT recommend,” Ethan emphasized). He finally decided to get his master’s in city and regional planning (MCRP).
“I realized I loved city planning and that – and this is crucial – a master’s degree is required by a vast majority of employers in my field,” Ethan said.
He was able to get his program majority funded and began his coursework and graduate assistant position at Clemson last month. He’s taking 13 credit hours; combined with his homework, assignments, and graduate assistant work, it adds up to about 50 hours of work a week.
But Ethan’s enthusiasm for what he does is evident in his projects, conversations, and even his social media. And his transition from saying “Go Mocs” to “Go Tigers” has been a smooth one.
The power of personal connections
Like many of the young professionals we’ve spoken with since the launch of Go-Getter, Ethan said that his most valuable job-seeking resources were his personal connections.
“If there is a connection you think would be helpful, make it happen,” Ethan advised. “I have made a number of good connections by just emailing people and asking for half an hour over coffee. Be personable; people are more likely to help people they like, and if possible, offer to help them as well.”
This is a habit that can benefit college students as well. Ethan is the proverbial poster child for networking during college.
“Talk to the professors in your department about internships and opportunities,” Ethan said. “There were several organizations that were looking for political science students and not many students looking for opportunities. I interned for a think-tank in DC, one in Nashville, and a campaign on the local level, and then worked service level jobs in between internships.”
Networking is a practice that fits well with Ethan’s outgoing personality. Pub trivia, biking, and playing music are just three of the hobbies he likes to experience with other people.
“I’m very social, so I’ll do a little of anything if it’s with friends,” he said.
The balance of self-care and self-challenge
You may be wondering how Ethan stayed sane during his hectic ungrad years (and how he plans to do it again with all the craziness of grad school).
Ethan emphasized the importance of self-care, whether it involve social interaction, healthy sleeping habits, and exercise. In his case, that involved playing soccer regularly as a break from studying and making a rule to set aside Sundays for rest and recreation.
“It meant fewer Saturday nights out, but the trade-off was worth it to me,” he said.
Ethan is a competitive person – play pub trivia with him sometime and you’ll understand. And as someone who thrives on the energy of others, Ethan said that he was disappointed that he didn’t find more of a driven environment at UTC during his undergraduate days.
“The prevailing attitude on campus was one of ‘do less,’ and that affected me as an externally motivated person. It wasn’t until my senior year that I got connected with the school’s honors college, where students challenged each other to learn and do well.”
When he envisions his future, Ethan pictures himself staying in the southeastern U.S. region. He said that he’d like to be in a city with close proximity to the Smokies, such as Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville, Greenville, or Atlanta.
“I’d like to be doing transportation work and economic development in a fiscally responsible fashion,” he said.
Ehtan’s master’s degree work is immersing him in both of these fields, but Ethan also takes a proactive approach to learning about these industries by researching and writing on his own. That’s a practice he recommends to any young professional.
“Write and publish as much as you can,” he said. “It’s very helpful to point to a body of work that establishes your expertise, passion, and ability to communicate well.”
Already, Ethan has proven himself more than capable of doing just that. We can’t wait to see the lasting impact he will create as a change-maker in city planning, transportation, and economic development!