Q& A with Urban & Regional Planning Students Akanksha Tiwari and Priyanka Rayamajhi

With students, faculty, and staff hailing from more than 110 countries outside of the United States, cultural diversity is certainly one of the University of Iowa’s greatest assets. The diverse university population enhances the educational experience for our students, while helping to connect our state to the global community. Undoubtedly, globalization has impacted economic and demographic landscapes all across Iowa, bringing both exciting opportunities and significant challenges. The University of Iowa and IISC, through the talents of our students and faculty, is well-equipped to partner with Iowa communities as they navigate a rapidly changing environment.
As IISC works to build partnerships with Iowa communities through our university outreach efforts, we value the many opportunities to bring both local and outside perspectives to community-oriented projects. In particular, international students who participate in IISC engaged-learning projects can offer unique and valuable insight based on experiences in their own countries. Not surprisingly, they also appreciate the small-town values famously found in the great state of Iowa.
As part of our continuing efforts to profile IISC partners, we interviewed two Urban & Regional Planning students about their experience working with Mason City on their comprehensive plan update. Akanksha Tiwari, from India and Priyanka Rayamajhi from Nepal, have traveled thousands of miles and left friends and family to study here in Iowa City.  Learn more about how these two international students from across the world are helping to make an Iowa town more sustainable and resilient.

Talk about key elements of the Mason City Comprehensive Plan.  

  • Priyanka-   The comprehensive plan was already there from 2006. We're updating those plans. In the previous plans they were supporting growth.  Our main thing would be resiliency and to help the population living in Mason City. 
  • Akanksha - We are working on the building environment and reaching out to community members to collaborate their vision with ours. It's a one-year long partnership with IISC and we have analyzed existing conditions, then we will go back to the community and talk with them.  

What have been some highlights of your project so far?

  • Akanksha- What attracts me to this project was the community outreach aspect. I've already done some community outreach projects before. It's not just sitting and researching, it's going and talking to people. We are thankful for IISC for that because we can go to Mason City and they cover our costs and make sure we're in the right place at the right time.
  • Priyanka-  The main thing for me is the community outreach and getting involved in the community and getting their feedback. It's what a real comprehensive plan should be.

What major advantages or challenges exist for Iowa communities in an increasingly globalized world? 

  • Akanksha-  Traveling and living in different countries and especially in the Midwest, urbanization is really rapid. People in smaller cities are moving to big cities which leaves smaller towns left with holes. Mason City has the same trend, they are losing their younger population and are trying to sustain and retain their population for the future. Back in India I saw the same trend with people moving to big cities for better job opportunities and better education for their children.
  • Priyanka- I'm from Nepal but I grew up in the capital city. I've seen lots of people are coming in from the outside. Its the same thing in Iowa City there are so many people moving around and especially during Thanksgiving or summer break nobody is here.

What are some of the biggest differences in community planning and sustainability in places where you’ve lived compared to Iowa? 

  • Akanksha - When I moved to the United Kingdom, the first thing I noticed was that they recycle. I've never seen 3 different bins for trash and that was a big change for me. It does happen in India, but there is no unified system for recycling. I studied sustainable architecture in the UK and it opened my vision to a lot of things I've heard about but didn’t know how to apply to community wide sustainability.  I didn’t realize sustainability wasn’t just the buildings, it's economic and social, which I learned once I got in the program here at Iowa.
  • Priyanka-  For me, the main sustainability thing was recycling. I haven't seen that in my country. Here I find it quite good and people are educated. In our planning we think about economic, social and environmental sustainability. In my country, we never talk about sustainability, only design.

You both have an area of interest in disaster mitigation. Explain how this relates to planning and sustainability? 

  • Akanksha - Mason City had the great floods of 2008. They did a comprehensive plan in 2006, and in 2008 the floods happened. A disaster, like the floods, would affect a community and leave it in a different position. Now Mason City knows what not to do and now they know what they should or shouldn’t do in the future. Preventing or keeping buildings out of the way of the flood plain would be much easier.

What are some of the biggest differences living in Iowa from India & Nepal?

  • Akanksha - In the Western countries, it's much different from India because here random people will smile at you. We are taught India to be in our own zone and not be bothered with other people. This expanded my horizon to be able to reach out to people. I like that feeling of not being in your box. I think it's pretty nice to adapt to that habit.
  • Priyanka- It's easier to talk to people. In Nepal we as a student we live mostly with families. It was hard to live separately from my family.  

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

  • Priyanka- I want to work for one year. I want to see how I can use everything I learned from here. I think I can learn a lot from the US.
  • Akanksha - Same for me. I'd like to work here in the U.S. I feel like I've learned so much so I'd like to expand that information.