Matthew DiScenna


What kind of work are you doing?
I work in the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s Aviation Department, where I manage and support long-term planning and sustainability projects. It’s an exciting place to be because our airport system continues to see record passenger numbers every year, and the agency is beginning to refocus on major investments at each of our airports.

What led you to your current position?
Professor Megan Ryerson spoke very highly of the Port Authority’s Aviation Department and introduced me to two of her associates there during my first year at Penn. I ended up landing a summer internship there and had such a great experience that I pursued an employment opportunity there after graduation.

What attracted you to the firm or position?
I was initially drawn to the Port Authority by the opportunity to work on some of the largest and most challenging transportation projects in the nation. During my internship, I saw the dedication and talent level of Port Authority employees, and the opportunity to work in public service with phenomenal mentors and leaders is what motivated me to return.

How did your studies at PennDesign prepare you for your work there?
My concentration in Sustainable Transportation and Infrastructure Planning not only provided me with a solid base of skills to build on but also enabled me to be a critical reviewer of analyses and planning work completed by others. On the public sector side, we do a lot of management and review of consultants’ work, so you need to have a critical eye in order to be effective.

What courses, studios or instructors had the greatest influence on your work or thinking?
I would have been lost working in the Aviation field without Professor Ryerson’s Aviation Planning course. Aviation is a very unique field within planning, and the opportunity to learn together with Wharton and Engineering students helped develop an understanding of how the diverse stakeholders come together to plan airports and airport systems. Professor Erick Guerra’s transportation courses emphasize the value of objectivity. It’s easy in the planning world to pre-judge a project or plan based on pre-conceived notions and theories, but Professor Guerra hammers home the need to treat each situation differently and base decisions off of the facts at hand. Finally, the transportation studio with Marilyn Taylor and Bob Yaro was an invaluable experience for me. You learn how major transportation projects are conceived, developed and implemented within the complex, politically-charged context of large metropolitan regions. Bob and Marilyn are among the most experienced and respected professionals in the business, and they open up their vast network of colleagues to help guide the studio process and provide a highly unique learning experience for graduate students.

What was the best part of studying at PennDesign? In Philly?
PennDesign provides a rigorous and practically focused planning education, and also offers the opportunity to expand your skills through electives at Penn’s other top schools. Philly is a phenomenal city for planning students. There is so much history to learn from, as well as serious socioeconomic challenges and exciting momentum and development throughout the city. Philly offers great neighborhoods to live in and easy access to NYC, DC and other destinations along the Northeast Corridor.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I see myself continuing to work in transportation planning. I would like to get experience on the implementation and policy sides of major transportation projects to round out my planning experience. There are many different stakeholders and professionals that come together to deliver transportation projects and the more understanding you have of the multi-disciplinary roles and perspectives, the more effective planners can be at guiding projects to successful outcomes for the public.

Are you keeping in touch with classmates, students or faculty?
Yes, there is a group of us working in New York City who regularly get together to catch up, and I also keep in touch with others working elsewhere. I also stay in touch with the professors with whom I worked most closely, as they continue to be valuable mentors.

Any words of advice for prospective students?
Take advantage of the opportunity to talk to students, professors and alumni during your school search to get as wide of a perspective as possible. I found PennDesign to be a great fit for my interests, and I think there are few, if any, better places to learn how to be an effective planner in the real world. In terms of geography, Philly is hard to beat. It’s a great place to live and go to school, and you have easy access to both the largest city in the U.S. and our nation’s capital. Above all, be open to opportunities that come your way, make the most of them, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You never know where it will take you and what new interests or passions you will find.

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