The Next Generation of Planners: Volunteering with the APA Ambassador Program

by Michael Foster, Assistant Planner, Town of Old Orchard Beach, Maine

As I was completing my master’s degree in Policy, Planning, and Management at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service in 2018, I was searching for ways to connect to the planning field. With a background in social work I knew I would need experience related to planning to secure the career I wanted. This was when I discovered the American Planning Association (APA) Ambassador Program. The goal of this program is “increasing awareness and understanding of the power and value that the planning profession brings to communities,” (APA, 2019). This program consists of activities led by volunteering members of the APA and allowed me the opportunity to connect with my local communities.

I just conducted my fourth activity and completed my second-year volunteering with the Ambassador Program. I developed the activity to include a brief presentation on planning and mapping to give participants an overview of the planning profession and provide examples of the different ways we utilize maps. This gave me the opportunity to present to youth at My Place Teen Center in Westbrook, Maine and several Boys and Girls Clubs locations in the state. Starting the activity with a feedback poster of “I wish my community had…” provided ideas for the mapping activity where neighborhood maps were provided for participants to draw in what they wanted to see in their community.  

It was great to see the unique ideas the participants came up with. These ranged from recreational facilities such as inland wave pools to social services like homeless shelters. My hope is this article inspires other planners to join the Ambassador Program. Based on the yearly Ambassador Program planner list, the last two years I have been the only planner to participate in Maine, New Hampshire, or Vermont. The Ambassador Program requires just a one year commitment where you conduct at least two activities lasting one hour each. Please join me in this great program to educate youth about our planning profession. The 2020 Ambassador Program registration deadline is January 31, 2020. To register or find more information go to