Conner Rettig

By Zoë Eitel
His community service involvement led Conner Rettig to explore a new career path. Between teaching English at a refugee camp in Italy, teaching at a summer camp in Austria, an environmental justice fellowship in Boston and an AmeriCorps position in Gary, Indiana, Conner has focused his work on helping and serving others.
Now a Communications and Outreach intern at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and a Research KnowledgeBase intern at the American Planning Association, Conner has transitioned from community service to public service. He has also made a shift in his education, complementing his bachelor’s in English Literature with a master’s degree in Sustainable Urban Development from DePaul.
“My path was this arc of volunteerism to public service and now finding this niche of sustainability municipal work,” he says. “Insofar as sustainable urban development, for me, I’ve found it to be the most satisfying way of addressing structural issues in a way that’s sustainable and long term. My experience in the nonprofit world wasn’t personally or professionally fulfilling in the ways I wanted it to be, but when I got interested in urban planning, I found it quite satisfying.”

Communications and Outreach Intern at Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

Research KnowledgeBase Intern at American Planning Association

MA Sustainable Urban Development 2020

Since starting at APA about a year ago and CMAP about 8 months ago, Conner has enjoyed gaining perspective on what it’s like to work at organizations with different environments and different reaches. APA is a smaller organization with around 50 staff members that serves a nationwide membership while CMAP has over 100 employees and serves the Chicago metropolitan area. Conner has learned that he leans more toward the work being done by APA because it allows more freedom since it is not governmentally funded.

“What’s been great with [the Sustainable Urban Development] program is it’s exposed me to a lot of different subjects. Coming from English literature, I had no formal education in any urban planning related discipline.”

“I’m currently kind of leaning a bit away from government work,” he says. “APA has a lot more wiggle room with what they do and they can apply for grants by federal organizations and state organizations. They have a little bit more liberty.”
Conner likes that he is able to have more agency as far as researching subject matters and exploring how to build and deliver programs at APA. He says it is similar to the work he enjoyed doing in Gary, building a program from the ground up and being able to be creative about how it is built and operated.
Something Conner has appreciated about the Sustainable Urban Development graduate program at DePaul is his ability to learn about multiple subjects within the field.
“Coming from English literature, I had no formal education in any urban planning related discipline,” Conner says. “What’s been great about Sustainable Urban Development particularly, is although it provides a lot of context for a practicing planner, it also provides a lot of interesting content on social justice and sustainability that can be applicable to many professions. Learning about all these different subjects has been really helpful to show the intersectionality behind all of them.”
Though he has turned his volunteerism and community service experience into a career, Conner still volunteers locally at two organizations he is passionate about: Franciscan Outreach and Chicago HOPES For Kids.
“[Franciscan Outreach] is a little bit within the DePaul tradition of Catholic service, so I semi-regularly about once a month volunteer at a homeless shelter just doing dinner service, serving food to folks,” he says. “[Chicago HOPES] is an excellent organization that does youth programming at homeless shelters all around the city. That’s been really cool because it’s satisfying my teaching urge and working with really adorable kids who deserve the best but aren’t as privileged as the rest of us.”