After four years in the working world, Meghan Jennings could see the career she wanted.  She just didn’t have the knowledge or the degree to get her there.

Both of her parents hold advanced degrees, so the idea of returning to school had always simmered in the back of Jennings’s mind. After touring Ball State and meeting faculty and students, the 26-year-old put in her notice at work and started packing. The return to the classroom to study urban planning has been invigorating, she says.

Friendships made in grad school are a perk of returning to school. Shown: Kenta Lanham, Michael Terronez, Meghan Jennings, Kiya Mullins.

Back in her undergraduate days, Jennings says she struggled to find a degree that would balance her interest in both art and science. She bounced among majors, finally settling in geography where she fell in love with cartography and completed a summer internship with the division of planning in Lexington, Ky. The internship led to a job as a planning tech, and that led to an interest in learning more about planning practices and development.

She applied for a job as a planner 1 but didn’t make the cut.

“And the job I really wanted to get to was two steps up the ladder, so that was the main reason for coming back to school,” she says. “My boss and his boss were extremely supportive of me coming back to school. They both really valued their master’s experiences, so they wanted to see me grow in that way too. I still keep in touch with them.”

Ball State was the only school she applied to – its place at the beginning of the alphabet led her to an early tour, and she felt at home immediately. Her only frame of reference for Muncie had come from the sitcom Parks and Recreation, which makes frequent jokes at the city’s expense.

“I’ve really enjoyed (assistant professor) John West’s social justice class this semester where we got to be involved in the Muncie community,” she says. “There is a lot going on, and there are a lot of people who are not getting paid to work but are doing it because they care for the people of Muncie. I didn’t get to see that side of Lexington, so seeing it here in Muncie makes me want to be more a part of community planning in my personal life.”

The biggest adjustment from the working world is homework, says Jennings, although she stresses that it’s not all bad. “Homework isn’t always work. It’s the research and the data and the projects and getting to see real tangible work done for a community, it’s rewarding.”

Her advice for would-be graduate students is to find something you’re passionate about.  “I knew that a masters would not just get me a job, but that it would help me continue to build my understanding and help make me a better planner. Being around other people who want to do the same thing is refreshing.”