Metropolitan Pima Alliance at 25 – Empowering the Future 

MPA’s ‘Immersion’ Program Connects, Educates

By Romi Carrell Wittman

MPA’s Immersion program trains the next generation of community leaders to better address the region’s growth and development by furthering knowledge, collaborating and working toward common goals.

Designed for early- to mid-career professionals working in the areas of land use, construction, planning, development and real estate, the three-month program accepts a new cohort of 10 to 15 students each fall. 

“These are complicated issues,” said Robin Shambach, principal at BWS Architects and a former MPA board chair. “People coming up in our community who are involved in land use need to understand all factors that play into that. Immersion gives robust information about how things happen in our community and how to build relationships.” 

Immersion hosted its first class in 2020. Each cohort includes industry professionals carefully selected to ensure a variety of disciplines and experiences are represented. The program hosts a single cohort each year, which takes place in the fall and covers 10 topics. Led by industry professionals and community leaders, each session is two hours long.

Linda Morales, current MPA board member and owner of The Planning Center, has sent students through the program. “Immersion gives a broad view of the development industry, which is not something my employees are necessarily exposed to,” she said. “It’s good for them to understand the pieces that come before and after what we do (at The Planning Center). That perspective makes for a better consultant.” 

MPA Executive Director Allyson Solomon added, “In the Immersion program, you’re going to work with people who are on your same trajectory – people who, while they might not be within your segment of the industry, are still working in land use and development as a whole. And later you have the chance to be a mentor to the next generation.” 

Alumni highly recommend the program and attest to the significant benefits they have received from it, such as the connections they forged throughout the program and a deeper understanding of the development industry. 

Immersion alumnus Hector Jimenez said his time in the program was a great experience. Jimenez’s company, Central Barrio Development, recently received accolades for The Flash, a redevelopment project just south of downtown along Sixth Avenue and 19th Street. Formerly the Flash TV & Appliance Store, the property will feature commercial areas as well as residential living spaces. Jimenez won an MPA Common Ground award for the project. 

“I tend to put my head down and work and don’t network as I should,” he said. “We tend to work in silos and don’t understand what each of the players do in their respective fields.”

Jimenez said Immersion helped to connect him with people with similar goals as well as those with different perspectives. “Going into it, you know the other people are on a similar path. It creates more fruitful relationships, which, in turn, will yield better projects for the region in general.” 

Jimenez was so impressed with his experience that he’s sent others through the program. “Graduates better understand the process,” he said. “They see it from all sides. Industry in general is fragmented and we tend to work within our own capabilities and strengths. That means we don’t always know what other professions are doing or the ways a decision made at one point can affect the whole process.” 

Teresa Vasquez of HSL Properties is an Immersion student. “The Immersion program is a unique opportunity to interact with the community’s future leaders in small group settings,” she said. “These types of interactions tend to produce genuine bonds that ultimately pay dividends down the road.”

Vasquez added that the program has helped her to see her work in a broader context and from different perspectives, which ultimately refreshes her view.

“In my opinion, the industry and community benefit in two ways,” she said. “First, it helps create deeper bonds between future community and industry leaders that lead to real progress. Second, it helps break down professional silos that inhibit personal and community growth.”

Tucson Electric Power has also sent students through the Immersion program. MPA board member and TEP staffer Camila Martins-Bekat said that TEP benefits greatly from the knowledge employees gain in the program.

“It’s an opportunity for TEP to provide value to employees for their professional development,” she said, “and it’s an opportunity to get close to our customers and learn about their customer experience. We hope to send one person through in each class.”


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