The opportunity to be in the right place at the right time is the ideal description of my journey from Belize City, Belize, to College Station, Texas. The CPAT team in Yarborough — Belize City — was the catalyst for this move.
In February of 2016, the Yarbrough Community Planning Assistance Team leader, Justin Moore, AICP, was on a preliminary visit to Belize City to discuss the project with the city council, and this had been reported on the local news channels.
My parents, who live and work in Belize City, saw the news segment and immediately contacted me to clarify if they should inquire into it so I might seek out a possible internship.
At the time, I was a recent graduate from the University of California, Irvine, living in Los Angeles. I was in the process of applying to master's programs in urban planning throughout the state.
Through my parents' determination, they were able to speak with an urban planner hired by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) who agreed to have me as her intern and as a liaison between IDB and the Belize City Council to work on a citywide urban planning project.
In a matter of two weeks, I was back living in Belize City and working directly with city council staff. All the while, I knew the CPAT team would make its week-long work trip to Belize City in June, and it would be an opportunity to meet APA planners.
Fast-forward to that week in June. By that time, I had already been accepted to a master's program back in California, was finishing up my work for the internship, and was ready to coast through the rest of that summer on a beach. Of course, the unexpected occurred.
It was not until the latter part of that week that I was able to be introduced to the team members between their busy schedule and meetings. I had already researched each member on the team and knew of the varying specialties they brought to the table to be as prepared as possible to talk with them about their contribution to the Yarborough project.
Tristan Lanza (right) met with the Yarborough CPAT members , including Adam Perkins, AICP (left) in Belize City during its visit in 2016. Lanza offered helpful local knowledge to the team as it worked through the project. Photo by Ryan Scherzinger, AICP.
Given my exposure and participation in research in sea level rise and climate change resilience during my time at UC Irvine, I was eager to talk with Dr. Shannon Van Zandt as an academic and professor in natural disaster and housing. The following day, the team invited me to attend one of its work sessions as members prepared their final public presentation on the last day of their visit to Belize City.
It was in this meeting that the CPAT members questioned me about my interests in planning, and Dr. Van Zandt offered me the opportunity to possibly start the master's in planning program at Texas A&M University for the upcoming fall semester. It was a surprise offer to not only myself, but to the whole team in the room.
Tristan Lanza (center) speaking with Yarborough CPAT member Shannon Van Zandt, PhD, AICP, following the CPAT's final presentation in Belize City. Photo by Ryan Scherzinger, AICP.
The following day, a night-long internet search of Texas A&M University, the College of Architecture, and its Department of Landscape of Architecture and Urban Planning — as well as its affiliated entities such as the Texas Target Communities and the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center — made me realize that it was a great fit given my interests in urban planning. I filled out the paperwork, did the application, and only waited a couple of weeks until I was accepted into the program!
My two years at Texas A&M University have come and gone, and I graduated only this month with my Master's in Urban Planning with a course emphasis in Resilient Communities and a certificate in Environmental Hazard Management from the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center.
Tristan Lanza with Shannon Van Zandt, PhD, AICP, and his parents on graduation day at Texas A&M. Photo courtesy Tristan Lanza.
During my time in school, I was included in ongoing urban planning work for Belize City and was also able to use this as the topic for my professional paper to graduate.
Looking forward, and as I seek out an opportunity to initiate my career, I will forever be grateful to the Yarborough CPAT members. I am excited to start my career and play my part in helping make great communities as the Yarborough CPAT did for Belize City, Belize.
Top image: Tristan Lanza in cap and gown for Texas A&M graduation. Photo courtesy Tristan Lanza.
About the Author
Tristan Lanza is a recent graduate of Texas A&M, where he earned a master's degree in urban planning.