Among the books and photos that line the shelves of Dawn Jourdan’s new office at Maryland’s School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation sits something you might not expect: A circa-1970s Little People Sesame Street playset. Rescued from her father’s garage, the playset is more than a piece of childhood nostalgia for Jourdan. It’s a reminder of what she learns when she engages with people—youth, especially—about how they perceive and engage with their neighborhoods, intel she’s leveraged to inform her work as a practitioner and scholar.
The biggest takeaway from hearing Jourdan talk about working with communities—whether it is elementary school kids during a “box city” exercise, colleagues at Texas A&M or HOPE IV stakeholders—is that her success is less about her credentials and more about her mastery of the art of listening. It’s a strength Jourdan is leaning into as MAPP’s tenth dean, particularly as she spends her first month acclimating to campus, meeting with new colleagues and immersing herself in the energy and spirit of the school.
A skilled lawyer, planner, researcher and teacher, Jourdan brings a depth of knowledge to Maryland in the legal aspects of urban planning, preservation and other facets of the built environment. Prior to arriving in College Park, she served as a professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning and as executive associate dean for the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University, where she was charged with growing a diverse community of faculty and the college’s development pipeline. She has held positions at Texas A&M University, the University of Florida and the University of Oklahoma, often straddling departments to teach about the legal aspects of land use, historic preservation, growth management and affordable housing, and to investigate methods in citizen-driven planning and public projects. She is the author of numerous publications, including a widely-lauded textbook for planning students, Planning for Wicked Problems: A Planner’s Guide to Land Use Law.
Jourdan was raised in Belton, Missouri (population 25,000), where her penchant for theatre and public speaking earned her an undergraduate spot—and full scholarship—at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, an opportunity she says she would not have been able to afford otherwise. It was at Bradley that she first became interested in urban planning; four years after finishing her undergraduate degree, she completed a Juris Doctor and Master of Planning from the University of Kansas and then a Ph.D. in Urban Planning from Florida State. Later, as a young junior faculty at Texas A&M, her expertise in land use and zoning led her to an interdisciplinary partnership to develop an evidence-based regulation code for commercial signage, an aspect of the built environment she sees as critical—not just to wayfinding, but to creating community identity and economic growth—making her a sought-after expert in esthetics regulation. With the urging of an industry benefactor, she helped establish the Academic Advisory Council for Signage Research and Education, a research-driven hub of thought leaders, providing independent expertise within the world of on-premise signage, the first of its kind. She launched the organization’s journal, the Interdisciplinary Journal of Signage and Wayfinding.
Jourdan’s experience, passion for learning and collaborative sensibilities position her well for her new posting. Since arriving on campus August 1, she has hit the ground running, building a list of priorities for her first 90 days as dean. First on that list is getting faculty, staff and students back to campus safely while reflecting on the lessons learned from educating during a pandemic. Her calendar resembles a Tetris puzzle, with back-to-back meetings with faculty, campus leadership, staff, board members and alumni, to learn about their issues and passions. She has plans to capitalize on MAPP’s natural pollination across the disciplines and will work to make cross-disciplinary engagement easier and more impactful. She plans to establish an interdisciplinary grant for faculty interested in working with other faculty across campus and with research centers, such as the National Center for Smart Growth or the Environmental Finance Center, which fall under MAPP’s umbrella. She is also planning a research symposium at MAPP, where like-minded researchers from disciplines across campus can share their work and find inroads for partnerships.
“I think one of our biggest strengths is our location, not just as part of a world-class research institution but also our role in the region, and I’m really excited about that,” she says. “As a school, we have an established legacy of service and a diverse community engaging in some really great work surrounding sustainability, equity and placemaking. So, one of my goals is to have MAPP serve as a hub for that cross-collaboration at the university.”
The established track record of the Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) program and its reputation as the gold-standard in town-and-gown partnerships, she says, will play a crucial role in that goal; she envisions the program becoming the university’s primary vehicle for community-based projects.
“I want PALS to be the gateway for faculty and student engagement with communities across the state,” she said. “It gives these places that don’t have the expertise, budget or reach on their own to tackle the kind of projects critical to quality of life—whether its supporting small businesses or managing stormwater. Providing that kind of community outreach is really at the heart of our mission.”
Jourdan takes the reigns from Donald Linebaugh, a mainstay of the Historic Preservation Program who served as interim dean for three years, leading the MAPP community through, arguably, the most difficult period in the school’s history. As students, staff and faculty found themselves unexpectedly conducting the day-to-day activities of university life from living rooms and laptops, Linebaugh worked collaboratively with campus leadership, school administration and faculty leads to pivot to an online forum, leaning into technology and unconventional methods to deliver a meaningful, engaging learning experience for students. The racial reckoning surrounding the murders of George Floyd, Brionna Taylor and others coincided with the school’s newly minted strategic plan, organized just the year before, pulling the community’s desire to prioritize equity, social justice and service into sharp focus.
“One of the things that drew me to MAPP was the earnest work they were engaged in around social justice,” said Jourdan. “And the opportunity to work with President Pines will be an honor and a privilege.”
Jourdan plans to continue that work to build and diversify the professions, which historically have been underrepresented, by increasing access and opportunities to BIPOC students. In addition to recruitment, she will work with administrators and alumni to expand enrichment opportunities, notably the education abroad program.
“Studying abroad is a luxury, and my goal is to make it a choice for any student who wants it,” she says. “It can transform how a student understands the world around them, so being able to offer that is really important to me.”
Linebaugh’s achievements as dean, Jourdan says, give her a solid foundation for growing the school’s programming and reach. Academic initiatives, including several new dual degrees, the development of an undergraduate program in real estate development and lobbying for the relocation of reACT—the university’s award-winning U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon house—to the school’s lawn, position MAPP’s next chapter.
I am really excited to be here and want people to know I am open for anything,” says Jourdan.