I'm primarily using this post to show prospective students the sort of ideas you can be exposed to at Penn and probably many places where the school has a good rapport with the community. I visited for two days last week and was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of topics covered.
Class #1: Intro to City Planning
The stuff in this class was pretty basic, but an interesting thing the professor did was assign students to basically write a blog post about a planning subject. You could tell that the students were pretty good writers and had some interesting topics (uncovering a river in Seoul was one that stoodout)
Class #2: Planning Studio
This wasn't really a class, per se, but I walked in and immediately started talking to students. The theme of the class was climate change, and the project that the whole class of 15 worked together on planning the Delaware River basin and how increases in water level might change the area. One student walked through with me with the presentation. I talked to another student at length about transportation specialization and her summer internship in Philly
Class #3: Urban and Regional Economies
This class was a discussion about the current financial crisis. There was supposed to be a speaker, but couldn't make it.
Class #4:Urban Policy and Regional Analysis
This class is party taught by the Deputy Mayor of Philadelphia, Andrew Altman. In this class, he talked about the current financial crisis, the assumptions and political ramifications of the planned budget cuts. Also talked about TIFs (tax increment financing districts). This was pretty awesome.
Class #5: Community and Economic Development Practicum
In this class, the director of a local Foundation, The Fels Foundation, came and discussed the foundation, their goals, how they distribute funds and receive funds, what sort of organizations and programs get funded. In the second half of the class (which I missed), the students were to work on theoretical grant applications for the non profit groups they work with.
Class #6: Land Use and Transportation Planning
In this class the founder and director of Phillycarshare, a non profit car sharing program came to talk about car sharing, phillycar share, its users and its business model, and other topics. This may have been my favorite class that I visited. The professor (who I had talked with for a bit before class) was very energetic, and the students were very interested.
Outside of class, I got to visit with a planning student, who talked about his summer internship in New Orleans. I also visited with the chair of the program and talked to him about my experience. He also straight up asked me my GPA and GRE scores. (Luckily those are pretty good for me). His advice for those applying- "don't make your personal statement 3/4s a BIO" and try to get recommenders who can speak to your ability to be a good grad student.
All in all a great experience. I couldn't help talking the whole time when I was with professors and students. It's pretty awesome to be with others who share your same (kind of nerdy) interests.