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Jake – Herchel Smith Scholarship to Harvard

A generous benefaction from the late Dr Herchel Smith enables us to send a few recent graduates to Harvard for a year, to spend a year as Special Students. In addition, around five current undergraduates take part in the summer Program for Research in Science and Engineering. Those who go on either of these schemes have very rewarding and worthwhile times, as Jake Nunley, one of 2016–17’s  Herchel Smith scholars, describes.

I first became interested in planning whilst studying for my BA in geography at Cambridge. Keen to explore in more depth the ways in which planning practices and policies are shaped by their political and economic contexts, I applied for the Herchel Smith scholarship, which would enable me to study for a year as a Special Student at Harvard University.

I initially expected Harvard and Cambridge to be very similar, and so I was surprised to learn when I arrived that the two universities actually differ in many ways. It took me a while to get used to the very different mode of learning, which tends to be based on a fuller timetable of larger group teaching, and on continuous examination and reading assignments. The longer semesters – around 16 weeks – seemed to go on forever compared with Cambridge’s famously short and intensive eight-week terms! I wonder in hindsight whether my experience of Harvard would have been different had I lived with the undergraduates (as many previous Herchel Smith scholars have done), since instead I lived in the graduate dorms. This was a great decision, however, as I was able to meet and make friends with people from all ages and backgrounds, many of whom were also international students but studying for PhDs and Masters degrees.

The thing I enjoyed most about my time at Harvard, however, was being able to take an unconventional range of graduate- and undergraduate-level courses. Indeed, taking courses ranging from land use law to the history and critical theory of American urban design, and from public and private development to international political economy, enabled me not only to gain a critical appreciation of American urbanism, but also to develop vital vocational skills such as real estate financial analysis and negotiation skills. These will be of immense value, given my plans to complete an MSc in international planning at UCL and to go on to pursue a professional career in the field.

As well as studying, the year at Harvard has also enabled me to travel around the US. I had some amazing experiences and highlights included exploring Maine and western Massachusetts, and spending the winter break snowmobiling through Yellowstone National Park.

Overall, my year at Harvard has been an unforgettable and immensely rewarding and inspiring experience, which I know I will look back on with fond memories in the years to come.

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