The Missouri State University Foundation kicked off their “Bears in the Know” luncheon series on Nov. 6, highlighting different areas of MSU that people may not know exist. The spotlight organization this month was Missouri State University’s Center for Resource Planning and Management, or CRPM. 

CRPM has a unique partnership with the Southwest Missouri Council of Governments, a regional planning commission. SMCOG is the only regional council in Missouri affiliated with a university, allowing both organizations to benefit from the partnership.

During the presentation, Jason Ray, executive director at SMCOG, explained the services SMCOG is responsible for including transportation planning, economic development, homeland security regionalization and regional policy.

With the help of an “army of interns” from MSU, his office is able to conduct other services such as sidewalk assessments and residential assessments in which students were able to assess almost 3,000 residential structures in the Marshfield community. They also worked with the 911 center to identify over two dozen structures with addresses that were either mislabeled or were wrong in the 911 database.

“We worked with 911 to correct those issues, so now if there is ever an issue at one of those addresses, 911 has good data they can rely on,” Ray said.

Interns are also responsible for creating the cost of living reports, which Ray says is a major reason people are attracted to Springfield as a place of residence. 

“Our student interns are invaluable to our office,” Megan Clark, SMCOG’s senior planner and internship coordinator, said. “They’re integral team members for everything from data collection and analysis to leading public meetings and presenting to elected officials.” 

Student interns also worked on planning projects which earned national awards. One notable project mentioned during the presentation was a comprehensive plan for the city of Ozark created by students. Ray said it is the first online, interactive plan created in Missouri, and most private firms do not have access to software like the one used for this project. 

Many comprehensive planning projects begin as student practicum projects before becoming contracted, Ray said. For example, students created a vision project for the city of Billings for a class. It ended up winning an Outstanding Student Project award from the American Association of Planning last year, and this year, the city of Billings contracted SMCOG to turn the vision into an actual comprehensive plan.

“We are able to do high quality projects for the communities we work with because of our MSU student interns,” Clark said. “Our partnership with the CRPM at MSU allows us to collaborate  on projects, present to classes about planning, and hire students to work on actual projects that are helping find solutions for real problems.” 

Some of SMCOG’s former interns who have recently graduated already hold positions with the City of Springfield, MoDOT and other organizations with focuses in development and planning after gaining experience through the internship program.

“We’re an organization not a lot of people know exist, but a lot of the projects we work on impact people’s day to day life,” Ray said.