CRP Undergrad Balances Class Time with Ice Time

action shot of Cornell men's hockey game vs. Yale, Mitch Gillam in goal near two other players

Mitch Gillam (B.S. URS '17) tending goal for Cornell men's hockey. photo / Cornell Athletic Communications

April 10, 2017

Mitch Gillam (B.S. URS '17) has had a busy final year at AAP, completing coursework for his urban and regional studies (URS) degree while the Cornell men's hockey season continued through March after a number of postseason victories. Gillam, originally from Peterborough, Ontario, via British Columbia, was certain about two things when he arrived in Ithaca four years ago: Cornell hockey and city and regional planning (CRP).

Gillam was in high school, playing with the Junior A British Columbia Hockey league when his experience traveling from place to place with the team crystallized into an idea to pursue a degree in urban planning. "I remember fully acknowledging my interest in planning as we bussed through several small communities nestled at the base of the Rockies. I had just moved to the region from my home in Ontario, and this change was stark enough to make me genuinely curious about how my own, as well as other cities, are formed and designed in response to their natural environments," he recounted.

Gillam began playing hockey when he was three. Throughout his upbringing and schooling, he continued to play the sport and assumed the challenging position of goaltender. He earned several pre-collegiate honors, including 2013 player of the year with the Chilliwack Chiefs in British Columbia before coming to the Cornell men's hockey program. Gillam has played for four seasons with Cornell where he made a name for himself as one of the few NCAA goaltenders to score a direct goal on the opposing team in his first year. He became the team's reliable go-to goalie the following year. Last season, Gillam was awarded the Nicky Bawlf Award, the team's highest honor of most valuable player.

Gillam's course of study in CRP has also been both fun and challenging, providing a number of new first-hand experiences in the field. Gillam recalled a class taught by George Frantz that included field work in Hamilton, New York, as having been important to his understanding of the comprehensive nature of the planning profession. The course gave students hands-on experience with the community-engaged processes that the URS program emphasizes. "We visited the site, spoke to people who used it on a daily basis, and spent the semester balancing functional planning and design components for a proposed set of improvements. It stands out to me for how much hard work we put in, but also for how much fun we had," says Gillam.

Because of his athletic commitments, Gillam wasn't able to participate in AAP's off-campus study that provides students exposure to different global cities, but the travel required to maintain his hockey schedule — including trips to Rome and Venice — has offered the best of both worlds. Gillam thanks his friends, family, mentors, teammates, and other loved ones for making his time as a student-athlete successful. "This journey at Cornell has been nothing short of amazing and I can't thank the AAP community enough for their love and support over the last four years," he adds.

Gillam will graduate with a B.S. degree from CRP in May. He concludes his time at Cornell on a promising high note after recently signing a short-term contract that begins what he hopes will be a longer professional career in hockey.

By Edith Fikes

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