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Don Brauer has been a mentor for 18 years, helping environmental planning students understand the various forces that go into developing a space like the Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield, which Brauer helped to create.
Beyond the blackboard
UMAA member profile: Don Brauer
By Erin Peterson
From M, fall 2005
After spending 40 years as an engineer, environmental planner, and consultant, Don Brauer (M.P.A. '57, M.A. '59) knows that a key to a successful career in any field is understanding the big picture. That's why, as a mentor for the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, Brauer has made a point of giving students a broad view of their chosen field. Ever since the Humphrey Institute started the mentor program 18 years ago, Brauer, 75, has worked with one environmental planning student each year. While he initially thought of it as a way to give back to his alma mater--he earned master's degrees in public planning and political science from the U--he enjoys the relationships he develops with students over the course of a semester. "I think a lot of students like just having someone who's interested enough in them to spend some time with them," he says. "Sometimes, it's that attention that means more than anything they might learn." Drawing on connections he's made throughout his career, including time as a city planner, Brauer introduces students to city officials, consultants, builders, and land developers, who give real-world answer to students' questions. "Students understand principles [of planning projects], but they often don't understand the practices or the constraints, whether they're ecological, economic, or political," he says. "I try to show them current projects and past projects so they can see what the constraints were and how people found solutions." Patient and thorough, Brauer makes sure his students are well prepared when they visit professionals; he requires students to come up with a list of questions for each person they meet. Dan Kalman, program manager for the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization and a student of Brauer's in 2002, says Brauer helped reaffirm his career direction. "I met people who worked in private corporations and people who worked at the state capitol," he says. "I got to see what someone does when they're working on policy issues at the capitol, and I got insight on people's daily work lives. It helped me see the difference between policy, research, and commercial work." Students aren't the only ones who benefit. Brauer says he appreciates being able to work with bright, motivated young people, and the professionals in the field who help out will occasionally hire students they meet for internships or jobs. "It's very rewarding," he says. "Sometimes I feel like I'm making a contribution, but most of the time I'm getting more than I'm giving. It's an experience I would encourage everyone to seek out in life."
For more information Alumni-student mentor programs operate in almost every college or professional school on the Twin Cities campus. To learn more about volunteering, visit www.alumni.umn.edu or call 612-624-2323 or 800-862-5867.