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Urban Planner’s Career Path Takes Unexpected Turns

Shawnika Johnson

Cal Poly Pomona has really reinforced what I’ve always believed: that when you become successful, a part of your civic responsibility is to help develop those around you.

Shawnika Johnson has only been a senior planner for the city of Irwindale for a few months, but she’s already fine-tuned for the role – one that she’s worked hard to get.

Since 2005, Johnson has lent her expertise in urban and regional planning to the cities of Fontana, Yorba Linda and the County of Riverside while balancing her roles as a wife, a mother and a student.

Johnson admits managing multiples roles can be challenging, but she isn’t the type to give up.

“What keeps me going is my faith,” Johnson says. “I do my best to fulfill my destiny. You can be as spiritual as you want, but you won’t accomplish your dreams without hard work and following your path.”

Johnson, a 2011 Cal Poly Pomona alumna, began her career in 1999 as a project assistant with the city of Torrance.

Later in her career, Johnson became a public health investigator for Los Angeles County’s Public Health Department. It was during this time she began to take a strong interest in urban and regional planning. While heading to work one morning, Johnson struck up a conversation that would change the trajectory of her career.

“I was talking to someone on the train about my interest in how cities change and develop, and a fellow rider suggested I research the urban and regional planning program at Cal Poly Pomona,” Johnson says.

She followed her passion.

In 2004, she joined the master of urban and regional planning program at Cal Poly Pomona and left her full-time job with Los Angeles County to accept part-time internships with the city of Fontana and Ion Communities, a private real estate developer.

Within a year, Johnson was hired as a full-time assistant project manager with Hogle-Ireland, continued her master’s degree studies and joined Fontana’s planning department as an assistant planner.

There was another development in Johnson’s life around this time: She started a family, mothering two boys.

Johnson says her encouraging family and supportive husband made the challenge of handling so many roles while raising a family possible. She also points to an accommodating university.

“Cal Poly Pomona’s planning program allowed me to work full-time and go to school at night,” Johnson says. “Cal Poly Pomona also helped me obtain an internship and connect with other planning professionals. You aren’t just a student at Cal Poly Pomona. You are a professional, and you are expected and encouraged to make things happen in the real world.”

Johnson served Fontana until 2014. In February of that year, she became an associate planner with Yorba Linda. She joined Irwindale in March.

In addition to her other roles, Johnson is president of Cal Poly Pomona’s urban and regional planning alumni chapter. She also serves on the California Planning Foundation and jumps at the opportunity to mentor students and help them navigate through college and their career.

“As a first-generation college graduate, I understand how hard it is to blaze the trail when you haven’t had anyone to show you which way to go,” Johnson says. “Cal Poly Pomona has really reinforced what I’ve always believed: that when you become successful, a part of your civic responsibility is to help develop those around you.”

Johnson has achieved accomplishments in her life, but the one she’s most proud of happened outside of work.

“The day that I graduated from Cal Poly Pomona, when my children saw me walk across the stage and get my master’s degree, that was my best personal achievement,” Johnson says. “I was able to show them that it’s important to go after your dreams, be comfortable with seeing others achieve, and that it’s OK for a mom and a wife to accomplish her dreams.”

Published on August 20, 2015

Impact Map

Explore Impact Map

The Impact Map shows how Cal Poly Pomona alumni are making a difference in Southern California and around the country. Explore the map or share your own impact.

Explore the map

Submit Your Story