As a graduate student in microbiology, Carlos Iñiguez studied the world of microorganisms at the cellular level. After changing his field of study to the Master’s program in city and regional planning, he now examines the world through a different lens. Iñiguez is a recipient of the Michael B. Cadwell Endowed Scholarship, awarded to students who seek to advance the needs of populations historically underrepresented in higher education. That support, says Iñiguez, has helped make this new career path possible.
We spoke to Carlos about moving from a PhD in microbiology to planning, his interest in transportation, the impact of the Cadwell Scholarship, and what he hopes to accomplish in his planning career.
Can you describe your path to planning? What led you to move from graduate work in microbiology to city and regional planning?
Where to begin? The topics you would find under transportation planning have always been interesting to me. I reflect on this often and remember different times in my life when I became curious about how cities looked different, or how cool it was to ride the bus, light rail, or metro in Mexico City and Houston, and how that affected the way these cities were experienced. Little by little, I explored those topics more as a “hobby.”
I was a scientist my entire academic career and thought I wanted to work in infectious disease research. Ultimately, I realized that in my work, I wanted to help my community as directly as possible. That wasn’t going to happen quickly as a research scientist. I also realized that planning was more than an interest and I got excited when I talked about it. It was a passion that had always been there. With those two feelings coming together, I knew I had to take the leap and really make my passion into my career. That said, I am thankful for my time as a scientist. I am an analytical person: I like picking up on details. Being a scientist helped to train me in problem-solving, experimental design, communicating data, and thinking logically about why I would conduct an experiment and what those results could tell me. It’s been incredibly helpful in translating those skills into city planning. Of course, the knowledge doesn’t go away. I do hope to use both degrees in some capacity.
You are the recipient of the Michael B. Cadwell Endowed Scholarship. How has that support impacted your education?
The scholarship has completely altered the way I can participate in the planning program. Before this support, I had worked three part-time jobs. Of course, that takes away time and energy that can be spent elsewhere in the program. The support from the Cadwell Scholarship has opened the door and allowed me to be a leader in this space. Coming from an entirely different field, I was concerned about if I truly belonged here. The scholarship allows me the time to support classmates, work on more technical skills, and serve as a mentor and leader for the next group of planners. It’s one of the reasons I could join the leadership of groups like CRPSA and feel more present in the program. I am incredibly grateful for the support and the opportunity the scholarship gives me to be a stronger part of the planning program.
Can you speak about your involvement with the City and Regional Planning Student Association (CRPSA) and your goals for the year?
I joined the executive board in hopes of helping connect graduate students. CRPSA has an excellent structure that offers great programming for undergraduate students. In the graduate program, it sometimes feels easy to interact only with those in your cohort. I want to help CRPSA become a place that also helps graduate students in the master’s and PhD programs to socialize, support, and learn from each other. I want to establish two new programs that can easily be replicated in years to come—a monthly graduate social and an annual CRP research symposium. I also plan on supporting graduate and undergraduate programming from other members to encourage their involvement and growth as planners through networking, subfield interest groups, social events, and more.
What are the areas of planning that you hope to address in your future career?
Transportation planning. Namely, multimodal, car-free transportation planning. My hope is to plan and design infrastructure that helps our cities reduce private vehicle dependency. This is the area of planning that has always excited me, especially in thinking about local bus networks, access to transit, walkability, and more recently, bicycle network planning.
Houston was so car-dependent when I was growing up and I could see how it made my neighborhoods look and feel different than the denser neighborhoods closer to the core. Visiting my family in Mexico City, I was always enamored by walking and riding the metro and feeling the noise, color, and shapes that made this city feel different. Because Houston was the city that helped me see this, I want to work there and improve their systems and infrastructure. There is a lot of momentum and good work happening with new rapid transit lines, bicycle and bayous comprehensive plans, and corridor redesigns in Houston. I hope to join that work to eventually make car-free living in Houston and other places a real possibility. We all deserve the opportunity to move however we choose. For everyone to have those options and the ability to live in and access anywhere in the city, especially in places that are often neglected or underserved, is my biggest goal. Multimodal transportation planning is how I hope to do that.
You have mentioned you hope to be a planner for people like yourself and to serve your community. Can you elaborate? What would this mean to you as a professional?
Planners often get involved with altering the lived environment of so many people. In places where I grew up, those planners, engineers, and officials often did not look like us, sound like us, or think like us. That makes it difficult to trust the process and to feel like interventions can really help us. When I think of my career, I hope to become a reliable voice that can help communities like mine navigate difficult conversations and elevate voices and ideas for what people want their communities to look like. It feels so refreshing to see someone working with or for you who shares in your lived experience. Spanish is my native language. Therefore, I want to plan in Spanish and bring the context of my time growing up in Southwest Alief—my neighborhood in Houston—to build trust and understand the vision of those for whom I plan.