Janet Smith, Co-Director & Professor at CUPPA
For the past 20 years, Dr. Smith’s teaching, research, and community service has focused on equity issues in local and national housing planning and policy. The majority of Dr. Smith’s research and outreach activities are conducted in partnership with community organizations and policy stakeholders through the UIC Voorhees Center. She has led several large-scale housing research projects in Chicago including a regional homeless needs assessment and a rental market study funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Along with Larry Bennett and Patricia Wright (former Voorhees director), Smith co-edited and co-authored Where are Poor People to Live? Transforming Public Housing Communities (ME Sharpe 2006). She and John Betancur recently published Claiming Neighborhood: New Ways of Understanding Urban Change (University of Illinois 2016).
Yittayih Zelalem, Co- Director
Mr. Zelalem has been with the UIC Voorhees Center since 1996 – first as Senior Planner, and as Co-Director since 2004. Prior to that, he worked as Director of Housing Policy Analysis at the Chicago Rehab Network. He also worked for over half a dozen years as Director of Property Development and Executive Director of several CDCs in Chicago. An expert in affordable housing finance and public housing, Yittayih has extensive experience in real estate development and housing finance and policy. Yittayih was also professor of law at the Addis Ababa University Law School in Ethiopia and currently teaches development financing courses. Mr. Zelalem has law degrees from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia and the Yale Law School, as well as a Masters Degree in Urban Development.
Jessica Kursman, Economic Development Planner
As Economic Development Planner, Jessica designs, conducts, and manages research in the Voorhees Center’s priority areas of economic and community development. Jessica’s background includes data and policy analysis in supportive and affordable housing, economic development, community development finance, and environmental policy. They have also held prior roles in community organizing and grants management. Jessica holds a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, and a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Policy from the University of Michigan.
Pronouns: They/them, She/her
Zafer Sonmez, Post-Doctoral Research Associate
At the Voorhees Center, Zafer contributes to the development and completion of economic impact analyses and various community technical assistance projects with major economic components. His academic research focuses on innovation mechanisms in knowledge-intensive industrial sectors. He is investigating the role of spatial proximity in the innovation process, the extent to which spatial co-location of firms facilitates collaborative invention efforts at the firm level. He has a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Colorado Denver, a PhD in Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).
Rukaya Abdallah, Research Assistant
Rukaya is a first-year Master of Urban Planning & Public Policy student. Originally from Chicago, she did her B.A. in International Studies & Political Science with a minor in Arabic at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Before she joined the UIC community, she was an AmeriCorps member for Detroit’s Office of the Mayor’s Department of Neighborhoods. There she served northwestern Detroit’s community, engaging with various neighbor organizations in capacity building. As a first-generation Ghanaian American, it is among the influences that inspire her path toward restorative social reparations for marginalized peoples and sustainable development within dispersed or diasporic communities.
Andy Born, Research Assistant
Andy has a over 10 years of experience as a community development planner in Chicago. Since 2009 he has worked in the Austin community, initially as a planner at the Voorhees Center and later as a staff member of Austin Coming Together. Andy’s research interests are in comprehensive community development initiatives and neighborhood change.
Sean Connelly, Research Assistant
Sean is a Master of Urban Planning and Policy student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. After graduating from Boston College in 2016, he worked at the New York County District Attorney’s Office as an analyst focused on diversion policy, business intelligence, and internal app development. He is particularly interested in equitable transit-oriented development and the intersection of data and policy.
Taylor Gendel, Research Assistant
Taylor is a first-year Master of Urban Planning and Policy student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to UIC, Taylor worked in the energy efficiency industry and for a nonprofit supporting the education and advocacy of solar energy in Illinois. Taylor received a B.S. in Community & Environmental Sociology with a certificate in Environmental Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is currently a chair of the Delta Emerging Leaders, the associate board of Delta Institute, a nonprofit that collaborates with communities to solve complex environmental challenges across the Midwest.
Caitlin Goodspeed, Research Assistant
Caitlin is a second-year Master of Urban Planning and Policy student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to UIC, Caitlin lived in New York City where she worked for a non-profit organization dedicated to making open space accessible to all New Yorkers. She is passionate about alternative transportation, equity planning, community building, and cities. Caitlin received a B.A. in International Studies and Religion from Elon University and also holds a Masters in Sociology from The University of Edinburgh where she was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She currently lives in Logan Square with her husband and two cats.
Youngjun Kim, Research Assistant
At the Voorhees Center, Youngjun contributes to the projects with land use and zoning, housing, neighborhood change, gentrification, environmental policy, and real estate market analysis. Youngjun’s academic research focuses on urban redevelopment and industrial transformation in the post-2008 period. He examines the role of urban politics in the urban transformation process and the relationship with the changes in organization and industry level with the spatial transformation. Youngjun holds a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from the University of California – Los Angeles, and a Bachelor of Science in Urban Planning and Design from the University of Seoul.
Rahul Shukla, Research Assistant
Rahul is a data science enthusiast with 5 years of experience in data analysis, web analytics and IT project management. He also has experience in data modeling and reporting for Fortune 500 companies in the healthcare domain. Previously, Rahul worked for Cognizant Technology Solutions as an Associate and at Xerox Corporation as a Senior Software Engineer. He is currently completing his MS in Management Information Systems from University of Illinois at Chicago.
Karen Yates, Research Assistant
Karen is a first-year student in the Master of Urban Planning and Policy program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her B.A. in Urban Studies at Wheaton College in the west suburbs of Chicago and participated in an immersive semester living, studying, and interning in Chicago. Karen serves as a Data Visualization Analysis and Communication research assistant for the Voorhees 2020 Census Project. Her research interests lie in community development, affordable housing, and trends in neighborhood change. International perspectives inform her approach after living and working in Taiwan, the Philippines, and the Netherlands.
Joshua Drucker (Faculty Affiliate Advisor)
Joshua Drucker is an Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His research interests center around processes of regional economic development and transformation. Recent research efforts include examining the role of industrial competition within regional economies, analyzing the contributions of anchor institutions to economic performance and resilience, and investigating innovation districts as an urban economic development strategy. With the Voorhees Center, Drucker has engaged in research and technical assistance projects for the Office of Economic Adjustment of the U.S. Department of Defense, the Economic Development Administration, and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Drucker has worked as an economic development consultant and researcher for the Technology Partnership Practice of the Battelle Memorial Institute, the North Carolina Department of Commerce, and the Southern Growth Policies Board.