Inside Look: Sophee Payne

Inside Look: A Conversation with APA Student Leaders is a series of conversations with current SRC Executive Committee representatives. The purpose of the series is to spotlight each of the representatives by providing their background, their role(s) in APA, and advice to future committee members.

With SRC elections around the corner, the Inside Look series aims to answer the questions that potential SRC Executive Committee representatives may have and create greater awareness about student leadership within APA.

In the sixth post of this series, SRC Region V representative George Benson discusses networking opportunities through APA and the SRC, challenges facing the planning profession, and the value of involvement in APA with SRC Region III representative Sophee Payne.

George Benson: Hi Sophee! How are you doing today?

Sophee Payne: I'm fantastic, how about you?

George: Not too bad. It's snowing like crazy up here right now, which I imagine is a lot different than Sarasota…

Sophee: A little bit

George: Well, diversity is our strength, right?

Sophee: Exactly.

George: To the nitty gritty bits here: for those watching at home, you are the Region III Representative to the Student Representatives Council (SRC) Executive Committee — is that right?

Sophee: Fact. Not the alternative kind either.

George: I know I speak for everyone when I say thank you for sticking to real facts, not alternative ones. How about another real fact for us: you are a graduate of Florida State University, right?

Sophee: That is a true statement. What don't you know about me?

George: I know some knowledgeable people, what can I say? And before you joined the SRC, were you involved with the planning student organization at FSU? Part of the leadership or anything like that?

Sophee: The PSO at FSU was initially not well organized, so I remained a just a plain old member so I could have the flexibility of working on salient projects with other students

I was interested in the APA liaison position from the start, and then the regional position was open before I knew it. There was an APA liaison position and the regional rep, which was often the same person since an FSU student has historically held the Region III position

George: Interesting! Did you feel a sense of responsibility to continue FSU's historical leadership?

Sophee: Definitely, that's why I pursued it so seriously. The previous Region III rep encouraged me to run because she knew I wanted to but was somewhat apprehensive about my qualifications I was a new student and in the process of gaining a new confidence. Having someone personally encourage me made all the difference

George: But you pushed yourself and did it anyway? Ahhh! Inspiring!

Sophee: Hahaha. Yes, and it turned out to be a great decision!

George: So, would you tell folks feeling a bit hesitant that it is worth it?

Sophee: I would definitely encourage anyone with a passion for service and planning to pursue leadership in APA, particularly through the SRC if they are a student.

George: You're doing my job for me, love it.

Sophee: There is a lot of opportunity to grow but also flexibility to use what you know

George: AWESOME! Okay, let's talk a little bit about the actual mechanics of being involved. We've all been doing it for a year. What do you think the value of joining the SRC is? Do you see it in terms of personal growth, service to the profession, to your region, or something else?

Sophee: All of the above. I greatly value meeting new planners and those generally interested in planning through APA. I have met many new and experienced planners from all walks of life from attending the national conferences, and being a part of the SRC allows more exposure to meeting people and making meaningful experiences. In many ways it enhances what APA already provides.

I have also learned much more professionally from working with other regional reps and the liaisons to other APA leadership councils. It is also a great feeling to work on helping students' interests get attention and be able to do something for them. The opportunity to work with students and connect with them is extremely gratifying. Excitement is easily contagious when young planners are bustling with new ideas

George: Sheesh. That's a lot. But I do know what you mean: the excitement is palpable when you get 20-30 young planners in a room. You'd think after 10 hours of conference, people's brains would shut off or something, but you can hardly shut people up with all of that excitement.

Sophee: Hahaha. Exactly. Maybe one day we can learn to harness the excitement for renewable energy

George: As a climate planner, please, don't tempt me.

So, you're working with young planners as part of the SRC, but you're now a practicing planner yourself? Can you say what your position is and maybe a little bit about what you do?

Sophee: I'm a community health planner in the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County. My work focuses on improving public health through the built environment.

I work to ensure that equity and social justice concerns are represented in public health initiatives that involve land use, transportation, and community environmental health

George: Okay, very impressive sounding. For the uninformed (like myself), what does that look like day to day? Are you doing environmental impact assessments, working with zoning bylaws, or other things?

Sophee: Yes, actually - I conduct health impact assessments, community assessment projects, development proposals. It is a very open-ended job, and I have a lot of flexibility to take on just about any project I think is appropriate for Sarasota County

George: That's really cool. You sound like you enjoy your work! Did you see yourself working in health planning when you first graduated?

Sophee: Yes, it was my specialization. Right now, I'd say my biggest project is improving our disaster management plan for vulnerable populations.

George: Ohh, okay, okay. Wow. That's very impressive then; walking into a job so quickly after graduation, directly in your field.

Sophee: I can't believe I was able to find a job that was in my field AND specialization right out of the graduation gate. I was quite strategic about it through. I managed to create a network of planners in my specialization and follow their career path. I ended up getting the job my friend left.

George: Well, good for you!

George: So, as a health planner, you're obviously super multi-disciplinary. I know you and I have talked about disasters and changing weather before and in general we SRC folks are big planning nerds for all topics. But based on your own practice and just general planning knowledge, what do you think are some big challenges facing our profession in the future?

Sophee: I see environmental hazards and the effects of environmental hazards on society in the near and distant future forcing the public and planners to work more closely together as we will be forced to re-organize and re-structure most aspects of the systems that dictate the quality of our lives

Sophee: More than climate change itself, there are also issues of pollutants in addition to the effects of climate change

George: That's a tall order ... So, you see a lot of work for planners like yourself, I take it?

Sophee: I believe the future will hold a lot of opportunity for local, regional, and federal levels of government to work together. Tragedy will certainly be good for our job growth

George: For you and me both, sadly.

Sophee: I'd rather it not be so but at least we can do something

George: I'd rather action than inaction, yes.

Sophee: Recently, more than ever I have also taken on a more global perspective

George: How so?

Sophee: I think the SRC has in a way prepared me to work at all the levels planners need to work, from the local level to the national and beyond. Local issues need a conduit to big decision makers more than ever

George: That's an excellent pitch to get involved, then. Do you see yourself continuing to volunteer with the APA after your term is finished on the SRC?

Sophee: I plan on retaining some kind of leadership role in APA because I have found so much value in it.

Sophee: I may focus more on how I may be involved in a leadership role in community health at the national level, like getting involved in Plan4Health, the Healthy Communities Interest Group, or promoting community health in a division or even working to create a new one focused on community health

George: Excellent! I can't wait to see what you do next! Any final recommendations or words of wisdom for any potential SRC candidates?

Sophee: The SRC has been very good to me, and it is an excellent stepping stone for a student that wants to come out of their graduate program with a running start. And I love the SRC and APA. Thanks, George!

George: Wooo! Awesome! Thank you!

Top image: Thinkstock illustration.

April 24, 2017