Brian Goggin


Brian Goggin arrived in Chicago fresh from undergrad with a passion for public policy that looked deeply into the economic side of things. As a Research Assistant at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago working at the intersection of economic and environmental policy, his short-term plan involved applying to PhD programs in Economics. For that, all he needed was a little bolstering of his math background, which he hadn’t pursued as deeply as he might have while in college.

That’s what initially brought Brian to the Graham School’s GSAL program. As a GSAL student, he enrolled in a yearlong sequence in mathematical analysis that would give him the math backbone he needed to compete with candidates applying to Economics PhD programs. “It was really a perfect match,” he says. “I needed more math and here were these amazing courses—and the Graham School offered the perfect way to take them.”

But something started changing inside Brian over the first two quarters of his intensive math study. It wasn’t that he didn’t find the coursework useful or what he’d expected; it was more that the interest and excitement he’d anticipated finding inside himself weren’t entirely there. As he sees it, it was something almost existential. An important part of himself felt overlooked in the work he was doing. Even more frustrating was that he was becoming bitter about all the math he didn’t know rather than feeling good about the skills and abilities he did have.

“I can see now how all of this was part of a broader shift taking place inside me at the time,” Brian says. “I just started seeing things a little differently. The whole plan I’d arrived in Chicago with—after having taken a couple steps into it—started reconfiguring itself somewhat. And as my interest in math began receding, this other area started replacing it. It was the city, it was Chicago, it was Hyde Park in particular. How did Chicago develop into what it had? What gave the different neighborhoods their particular characteristics? These were the sorts of questions I started asking. Why do cities work the way they do?”

It didn’t take long for Brian to realize that there were classes he could take to flesh out this new area of interest as well. Here, again, the GSAL program provided the perfect fit. The next year, through the Graham School, Brian enrolled in the Introduction to Geographic Information Systems sequence. In the study of geography and urban spatial organization, Brian says he finally found something that brought together the whole array of his interests, talents, and approaches to the world. Clear now on what interested him and the path he wanted to follow, he applied to urban planning programs around the country and was greeted this spring by good news. Brian’s moving to California next fall to begin his Masters of Science in City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley.