When Angela (Miller) Gobar graduated in 1984, she became the first black alumna of Ball State’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning program. In her classes, she was often the only minority, and almost always the only female.
“My career was unusual,” she recalls now with a laugh. “Almost a novelty.”
University-wide the number of African-American females in grad school has tripled in the past decade from 104 in 2007 to 312 in 2017.
As a senior studying sociology and anthropology at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, Angela knew she wanted to be involved in community service somehow, so she did what came naturally to her: She went to the school library, pulled out a stack of journals, and started reading.
“Somewhere I came across a document that listed potential careers for sociology majors, and urban planning was one of those,” she says. “And Ball State had a fairly new program that I was interested in.” She hand wrote her application and dropped it in the mailbox. And waited … as was the process in the early ‘80s.
Today, Angela loves striking up conversations with strangers at farmer’s markets and craft fairs where she sells her homemade rum cakes, but she remembers feeling too shy to speak up in grad classes. That changed the day Prof. Francis Parker handed back one of her papers.
“He was so impressed with my thoughts,” she recalls. “He said, Angela, obviously, you have a lot of good thoughts and important things to say. You really should speak up in class. That gave me confidence. I will never forget that.”
At Ball State, she particularly enjoyed studio classes which took students into communities to work on real-world problems. Those classes continue to be a hallmark of the urban planning program today.
Upon graduation, Angela worked as a planner in Louisiana and Mississippi and for a health care association as policy and legislative director. She earned her PhD in urban and regional planning from Jackson State University in 2007, then worked and taught at the university for several years before returning to her long-held love of research. Retired now, she enjoys consulting and occasional research projects and encourages young people to consider a planning career.
“Anyone who would want to make a difference in their community at any level should be involved in some aspect of planning,” she says.
Married for 25 years to the late Anthony Gobar, Angela has two children: son Anthony Gobar Jr. works in the planning field doing environmental and site review work, and daughter Aja is a dentist.
“There are more women and minorities involved in planning now, and more opportunities,” she says. “Women realize they can achieve anything—it’s a matter of having information and the resources to do these things. Resources are more abundant now, and access to information is much easier.”