Willow Cabral on the PSA's importance, and its transformative growth this year

Woman among trees in park
Willow Cabral, graduating student and outgoing PSA president

While SCARP’s student community have always shown tremendous spirit and camaraderie, this past year especially has shown an extraordinary revival of momentum. 

This is in no small part due to the Planning Students Association at SCARP, this past year under the leadership of the tireless and inspiring Willow Cabral and PSA’s formidable executive team. 

We spoke with Willow about this past year at SCARP and everything it’s meant:

Let’s start with the question for the newest among us: what is the PSA?

The Planning Student Association is a student run group elected by SCARP students that act as a student council. The PSA throws events throughout the year, offers resources, and welcomes new students. 

Its work is driven by a desire to create a strong sense of community for students during their time at SCARP, and to re-bridge connections with SCARP alumni to strengthen collaborative bonds in the planning community. 

The PSA also plays a strong role in student advocacy, with a goal of leaving a legacy of continued positive change and improvement of the student experience.

Why is it important for students to engage with the PSA? How are some of the ways students can be a part of your vision for the School?

Just like planning is rooted in principles of community engagement, openness, continued life-long learning, and positive change-making, our student experience is driven and enhanced by those we learn, think, and share with. Recognizing the importance of connection and community, the PSA helps to build life-long bonds within and between cohorts as the next generation of planners. 

Through engagement with the PSA, students have access to valuable SCARP-tailored social and professional experiences and opportunities. All are welcome to join in on PSA programming and events — diversity and inclusion are what makes communities most vibrant, including ours!

People gathered at a foresty park
SCARP's autumn potluck; Willow Cabral at lower right, beside PSA member and Symposium MC Analisa Ruiz.

Just like planning is rooted in principles of community engagement, openness, continued life-long learning, and positive change-making, our student experience is driven and enhanced by those we learn, think, and share with.

It sounds like PSA has quite a history. Can you tell us a little of PSA’s story? 

The PSA has always been a collection of motivated students that are dedicated to serving the SCARP student community. Unfortunately, much of the shared memory of the PSA and its historic accomplishments were lost during the pandemic, which also interrupted traditions like the annual student-run Symposium.  

As far as my personal story with the PSA, student group-based collaborative experiences have been at the heart of my educational, personal, and professional growth: I’ve had a variety of fantastic experiences in student groups and societies during my undergrad at the University of Toronto. 

Coming to UBC SCARP, I felt no different: I knew I wanted to get involved somehow. 

In my first year, I became the PSA’s representative for the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) and formatted the newest PSA student orientation handbook, and enjoyed having an introduction to SCARP and the PSA. When I and other members of my cohort noticed disconnects in the student experience, I felt a strong sense of personal duty to serve as an advocate and had lots of ideas for how to make that change happen, which led me to put my name forward for PSA President.  

The main goals we had coming into this year were to motivate change and build community. With a team of amazing and dedicated fellow SCARPies on the PSA, we were able to make progress towards and realize many of these goals – including more engagement between and within cohorts, more opportunities for social and professional experiences (including revival of the SCARP Symposium after a 5-year hiatus!), and more collaboration with SCARP for improvements in the student experience. 

I’m proud of the PSA and what we’ve accomplished, and am excited to pass on the torch to the newly-elected PSA – their cohort is full of incredible change-makers and I know the PSA will thrive and continue to evolve under their leadership! 

Students and faculty posing at sunset
Willow Cabral, centre, at the Musqueam Welcome event, at the beginning of her time at SCARP
What’s been your favourite moment at PSA this year? 

A few fond moments come to mind! 

The first is from our very first PSA meeting. Another goal this year was to make the PSA welcoming and accessible to first-years, and it was so exciting to have the WMAX Lounge filled to the brim with bright-eyed first- and second-years alike. The PSA is a body that can connect the cohorts, and this year was a testament to that, with continued collaboration (and many friendships forged!). 

Another is the PSA Trivia Night, which helped to connect the cohorts with a humour-filled game of friendly competition and planner-ly trivia.  

My favourite moment, however, has to be the long-awaited 2024 SCARP Symposium. The PSA Symposium Committee put a lot of sweat and tears into the Symposium's making, and it was a pleasure to see how it meaningfully brought together our regional planning community for a day of shared learning, food, and connection. 

Post-pandemic it’s especially a challenge to gather in place, and yet one of the cornerstones of planning is networking and partnership. What can you tell us about PSA’s journey not just to keep the PSA boat afloat, but to invite people in SCARP and the larger BC community to gather in community in your revived Symposium? 

One of our goals for the year was consistency – we wanted to provide planned opportunities for fun, learning, and connection at least once a month. The pandemic reminded us of the value and importance of in-person connection, not only personally and professionally, but also in education.  

This was a driving factor behind our revival of the annual SCARP Symposium too. The planning community thrives when we work and share with one another. Many of us felt disconnected from the local and regional planning communities, and we also noticed a lack of student-led programming in planning spaces and conversations. 

That’s how the 2024 SCARP Symposium, with a theme of “(re)Connecting Communities: People, Places, and Planners Together,” was conceptualized and brought to fruition, through several committees of highly dedicated student organizers. In particular, I’d like to recognize and appreciate the leadership and dedication of Maya Korbynn, Analisa Ruiz, and Ning Yan in making sure the Symposium was as successful as it was. 

During and after the event, we heard phenomenal feedback from attendees of all backgrounds – students and professionals alike — that attending the 2024 SCARP Symposium provided them with much-needed inspiration, reinvigoration, and community-building within the field.

Don’t be afraid to lean on your community for support whenever you may find you need it!

SCARP Symposium logo, showing 2 jigsaw puzzle pieces
PSA’s Symposium was fantastic, with extraordinary speakers, talks, turnout, and conversation. Would you like to tell those who couldn’t make it how it went? And those who did make it how it went on your end, behind the scenes?  

For sure! The day was a huge success and a whole lot of fun – it featured an inspiring opening keynote from PIBC President Emilie Adin, 3 break-out sessions sprinkled throughout the day with 10 exciting and diverse session offerings (including workshops, panels, seminars, and even a talking circle!), and an entertaining and reflective closing keynote by video creator and planning educator Uytae Lee. The event was held across five rooms in UBC’s Robson Square in downtown Vancouver. 

The day included ample break time for attendees to mix, mingle, and make connections in the planning industry. It felt amazing to see the spirit of community and collaboration that we centered in our event planning manifest.

Behind the scenes, we had super-organizer Analisa coordinating with all of our volunteer roles, which included registration, catering and venue coordination, AV and tech, panel liaisons and moderators, photography, and more – and that’s just from the day-of! A lot of work went into planning this event between regularly-scheduled PSA meetings throughout the school year where we had to start at the base point of figuring out logistics – when and where? Theme and tagline? Potential topics and panelists? Sponsorships? Catering? Design materials? Marketing? Ticket sales? Pricing? Collaboration with PIBC and other institutions? 

We deliberated on these questions over the last 6 months, and while our footing in the planning process felt slippery at times (a natural part of the event-planning process I’m told), the dedication of the Symposium Committee made sure the event went off without a hitch in the end! 

Students arm-in-arm on stage, in front of "SCARP Symposium" logo
The Symposium organising team, all SCARP students; Willow Cabral second-from-left.
You now hand the reigns over to a new administration of elected students (and congrats to the new PSA president Jackson Spring), and a new cohort of students will soon arrive at SCARP. What advice or inspiration would you like to give them about how to keep your tremendous momentum going?

Don’t give up and keep going! 

Community is at the center of all things – determining goals, directing action, finding support, and celebrating achievements. 

Momentum and success are fostered by a dedicated, kind, and empathetic team environment that welcomes and invites people to work together. 

I learned the hard way that taking on too much without enough mindful moments, rest, and self-compassion is an express ticket to burnout, so being intentional with self-care and realistic about your capacity and bandwidth are vital. 

Don’t be afraid to lean on your community for support whenever you may find you need it!

Students posing in crowd, centre one giving peace sign

Willow Cabral will graduate later this month, after tremendous service to her fellow students and SCARP’s future. We hope to have a flourishing collaboration with her as she embarks on her journey as an alumna and a professional planner! 
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