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Brett Peanasky L’16 channels passion for policy and architecture into career

August 08, 2016

For Brett Peanasky L’16, MCP’16, his joint-degree program has launched him on a career in land use and environmental law.

Peanasky graduated this spring from Penn Law’s JD/MCP program, where students earn a JD from the Law School and a master’s in city planning from the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. For Peanasky, this four-year degree program let him combine his background in architecture with his interest in policy.

“I always saw those two things as part of the same discipline,” said Peanasky. “Architects and planners work within boundaries that are established by law.”

After graduating with a degree in architecture from Ohio’s Miami University, he was elected vice president of the American Institute of Architecture Students, headquartered in Washington, D.C. In the position, he traveled across the country helping students build local chapters and advocated on the behalf of students and recent graduates to other professional architecture organizations. That experience, Peanasky noted, showed him that he wanted to be involved in policy decisions, not just architectural ones.

He then got an internship at the American Planning Association, the professional association for city planners, where he worked on research involving climate change, energy efficiency, and sustainability. Those experiences led him to look toward a graduate education combining city planning and law.

“What’s so exciting is that Penn Law’s cross-disciplinary curriculum allows students to find their specific passions and pursue them,” said Amanda Aronoff L’95, Associate Director of Cross-Disciplinary Programs. “It’s hugely rewarding to help Penn Law students find the joint-degree and certificate programs that fit their intellectual and career interests.”

In Penn Law’s joint-degree program, Peanasky said, his studies reinforced each other. At the Law School, courses on Environmental Law, Land Use Law, Urban Law, Urban Policy, and Real Estate Transactions all spoke to issues he was studying in his planning curriculum. At the same time, his Environmental Planning course at Penn Design discussed the statutes that he had learned about in Environmental Law and how planners use those statutes.

The program helped him see connections that he wouldn’t have seen if he had just studied one field, he noted, and his three summers of work experience during the program allowed him to zero in on exactly the career path he wanted.

During his first summer, he worked as a research assistant for Professor Cary Coglianese, examining the effect of Pennsylvania public contracting law on the ability of architects and contractors to design and build sustainable buildings.

He spent his second summer at the Real Estate and Economic Development Division of Philadelphia’s City Law Department, which serves as the legal counsel to every public entity that holds land.

And in his third summer, he worked at a San Francisco law firm specializing in land use and environmental law. The firm had city planners on staff, and much of Peanasky’s work was analyzing planning documents and codes to make sure they were complying with environmental laws in California.

“This dual-degree background gave me a very specific set of skills that were very attractive to the types of employers I was interested in working for,” he said.

And while he had to be more focused in his job search, that specificity helped him formalize his intentions, he noted.

Peanasky has taken a full-time position at the land use and environmental law department of Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg LLP in Philadelphia, a firm specializing in real estate development and land use.

“The opportunity to — in a way — design my own course,” said Peanasky, “was very helpful in getting the type of work I wanted to do.”