Meet Your Colleagues: Laxmi Ramasubramanian

By Nora Parker


Laxmi Ramasubramanian is an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College.

Q. What is your position in your company and what do you do there?

A. I work as an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College. Like a typical college professor, I teach, maintain an active research program, and get involved in a variety of service activities within and outside the university. I mainly teach graduate students and this is an interesting and rewarding experience because many of them come to graduate school having worked for a couple of years and they bring their professional experiences with them into the classroom. I help my students contextualize and abstract from their individual experience when we discuss theoretical concepts. At the same time, because we are primarily training students to become professional urban planners, we emphasize developing skills in research, presentation and communication and of course in technical areas such as GIS.

My own research focuses on using digital technologies to foster civic engagement at different spatial scales. This year has been very exciting when we consider the ways the use of digital technologies and new media has taken the world by storm. We have seen many innovations for the creative use of digital technologies for community organizing and movement building but also seen instances where citizens were able to use a variety of everyday technologies to address local problems. It seems like scholars and the general public are recognizing the value of citizen engagement and the positive role that digital technologies can play in supporting community activism.

Q. What challenges do you face?

A. Resources are always limited, especially at a public university like mine and we are always trying to do more with less. It is almost impossible for my students to attend conferences or meetings because they cannot afford the costs or the lost time/wages since many of them are working while going to school. I am really frustrated when this happens because I believe that both undergraduate and graduate students can benefit from attending and presenting their work at conferences.

Another challenge, but a more personal one is not having the time to keep up with all the innovations and new technologies… I feel like I am constantly playing catch up.

Q. What accomplishments have you achieved?

A. I recently published a book, Geographic Information Science and Public Participation (ed. note: available on Amazon). It was published by a respected publisher, Springer, which publishes many technical books. The book was well received and I am very proud of the book because it’s the first book that brings together planning, civic engagement and the use of GIS and other technologies. It’s also a book that synthesizes my own research and experience. I took care to write it for a professional audience by avoiding academic jargon and inaccessible prose.

I am also excited about my involvement with the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science and at the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities within my university.

Q. What was your career path to your current position?

A. I never thought I would end up as a university professor. I was trained as an architect and was very much focused on working in the public sector after earning a planning degree. In school, I ran into the work of two professors who ended up shaping my current career. Prof. Donald Schön was an amazing scholar and taught me about being a reflective practitioner where I could balance thinking about big ideas along with pragmatically solving problems. He opened up the possibility that I could be an academic scholar and help cities and communities solve complex problems. Another professor who inspired me is Prof. Bill Huxhold, who had written a book that introduced me to how GIS can be used in city government. After reading the book, I wanted to study with him and I ended up as his Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

After getting the PhD, I worked in four different academic jobs in three different countries as I followed my spouse who was also pursuing his career. Eventually, we both moved to New York City eight years ago. I started my formal academic career six years after I got my Ph.D. When I worked as a post-doctoral researcher and as an adjunct faculty member, I was fortunate to have good mentors. With their help and guidance, I was able to understand the demands and benefits of academia well before I was offered a tenure track position at Hunter College.

Q. What would you like to be doing in your career in 10 years?

A. Ten years is a long time… I expect to be further established in my field and in the academic community, working as a full professor at a research-intensive university. I anticipate being engaged more actively in developing and sustaining university-community partnership projects, perhaps by directing a university-based research center. I expect to be more active in the international arena, working in partnership with universities, governments and nonprofits on collaborative activities related to urban development, GIS education, and community empowerment. I am interested in academic administration, so I hope that I will be well-positioned for a leadership/management role within academia.

A. What are your personal interests and hobbies?

Q. I am an avid reader. I read whenever I can and when I am not reading for work, I am reading both popular and literary fiction. I have recently taken up quilting and I am marveling at finding a whole new community and world that is very exciting. I love traveling and I seize opportunities to explore new places whenever I can.

Published Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Written by Nora Parker

Published in


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