Walter O. Farabee
- Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise Coordinator for the City of Winston-Salem
- Master’s Degree in City and Regional Planning, Concentration in Housing and Community Development
Please share the factors and/or people that (who) inspired you to pursue your area of graduate study.
I have always been interested in the development of cities and urban neighborhoods. Growing up in suburbia, I was greatly intrigued by downtowns, dense buildings and walkable streets. All the things that we didn’t have in my neighborhood. This led me to enter [my] undergraduate [education] as an architecture major, but I soon switched to economics. I did much research and found that economics would provide me with an understanding of how business, government and urban planning/design impact development.
During my four years I took every planning-related class that was offered, such as urban economics and civic policy, as well as some architecture courses, to gauge if city planning was truly for me. I landed a planning research internship in the metro D.C. area the summer before senior year, which solidified my decision in the field. I applied to several graduate planning programs and decided to attend DCRP [the Department of City and Regional Planning] at UNC because it was highly ranked and in my home state, plus I had always been a Tar Heel fan.
Please describe your favorite memories as a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill.
One of my favorite UNC memories was strolling across campus with fellow DCRP students to grab something to eat on Franklin Street or in Lenoir after class. The ability to leave an academic building and in just a few paces have dozens of restaurants and shops to choose from is a real treat. Not many colleges have the amenities of Chapel Hill within such close reach and I don’t know if many students realize how lucky they are to have such a walkable campus and town, not to mention a great public transportation system.
What aspects of your graduate studies are most useful in your current professional role?
In graduate school, almost all classes and projects involved working in a group, which has proven to be most useful to me today. Not only did I learn how to divide up work or manage a group, but I learned how to communicate with others and understand group dynamics. Group work is not always easy nor is working with fellow employees in a professional environment sometimes due to office politics. Through understanding my personal strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of my teammates, we are able to work efficiently, in a timely manner and to be productive. This trait is almost as important as having technical knowledge in a work setting.
Please describe the most significant aspects of your work.
Business development is the main focus of my position as the Minority and Women Business Enterprise Coordinator. I assist minorities and women that are budding entrepreneurs or existing business owners to realize their full potential through helping them to develop business plans, make connections with local resources, get city contracts and/or pursue funding through the city’s Small Business Loan Program. Although the business world’s doors of access have been unlocked to these groups, many barriers still exist and I help to level the playing field for them.
The position is not conventional planning, but aspects of community development shine through as we have programs to encourage the revitalization of urban commercial areas in our burgeoning downtown and surrounding urban areas. My academic background provides me with a strong understanding of how government can influence or discourage business growth, as well as how businesses can respond to those factors.
Do you have advice for current UNC-Chapel Hill graduate students?
Get the most of your graduate college experience because it will be over before you know it. Although you may have a specific interest, take some classes and get involved in activities completely opposite of those interests to test the waters. You may discover an interest you never knew you had. I had never been keen on historic preservation, but by taking the course as an elective I discovered a strong appreciation for protecting and advocating for historic places.