Not all students can say they helped plan a city while they were in college, but students in NAU’s Public Planning program are gaining real-world experience outside the classroom.

Three student interns in the program working for the city of Flagstaff are helping to create a regional plan update for both the city of Flagstaff and Coconino County.

Public planning majors Brandon Rabidou, junior, and Jenny Blue, senior, are being incorporated into the planning process, while sophomore James Gardner, is working on housing and community investment scenarios.

“These students are working on real projects, they’re not just making copies,” said Dawn Hawley, professor of geography, planning and recreation. “With these internships, everything they’ve learned in class is coming together.”

Updating the plan is a major undertaking requiring 18 to 24 months of work. Once finished, the plan will be used for the next 10 years as a guide for the character and land development of the area. Rabidou is helping plan community development with schools, houses and other buildings as well as doing public outreach.

“I can really see the correlation with public participation classes I’ve taken,” Rabidou said. “Some of the technology we were using in my classes was something the city hadn’t done before.”

Rabidou incorporated classroom knowledge as well as his own interests to bring public participation in the city planning process to a broader audience. He created a blog for the city and video streaming of public meetings using inexpensive and free online tools such as WordPress and Twitter. He also converted the blog into Spanish to reach a larger audience.

“Now that I’ve implemented these new tools, different people from the city are asking me for more blogs and web sites to update,” Rabidou said. “I’m taking that little step out there and now more people are really interested.”

As part of the Public Planning program, students are required to work at least 300 hours for a professional agency, giving them a competitive edge.

“Our students have the opportunity to gain up to a year of professional experience before they’re even out of school,” Hawley said. “It’s a way to transition from academics in the professional realm and really gives them an advantage in the job market.”