Stephanie Queen always knew she would come back. Despite her forays into academia at Cornell University and a research stint in Istanbul, Turkey, Queen couldn't resist the tug of her home in small-town Alaska, where she has worked as Soldotna's city planner for almost three years.
Queen, 28, is the driving force behind the Envision Soldotna 2030 Comprehensive Plan, a set of goals and guidelines charting the city's developmental trajectory over the next 20 years. She has been working on the project since March 2007, when she and her now-husband Jamie returned to their roots.
Born in 1982, Queen graduated from Kenai Central High School in 2000 and went on to obtain her bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
"I studied engineering because I love math and science," Queen said. "Civil engineering felt like a good fit because you work on problems that directly impact people's lives -- providing clean drinking water, or roads to drive on. The projects aren't always glamorous, but they're important."
A very bright young woman, Queen was offered a Fulbright scholarship in 2006 to pursue her Ph.D. research on earthquake risk in Istanbul, Turkey. She accepted.
Things were slightly complicated, however, as her boyfriend Jamie -- also born in Kenai -- had recently proposed. But Queen, always very academically driven, was not about to let the Fulbright scholarship and the chance to study halfway around the world slip through her fingers.
"That was somewhat bittersweet because it was a great opportunity and I couldn't pass it up," she said. "And yet at the same time my mind was already thinking forward to moving back home."
Queen did move back, within the year even, but didn't return to Kenai right away. She and her new fianc decided to live in Anchorage for awhile, where Queen took a job with DOWL HKM that involved both engineering and land use planning.
"I was working directly under a professional civil engineer, but spent most of my time collaborating with architects, developers, or city staff," she said. "This was also my first exposure to how important the public's role is in land use planning, and I attended many public meetings to get different stakeholders' input on our projects."
After one year of living and working in Anchorage, Queen and her soon-to-be husband returned to Kenai in March of 2007, when she eagerly accepted the recently minted job of Soldotna City Planner while Jamie worked at the Tesoro oil refinery. The two were married six months later.
"I always knew I would come back," she said. "Of course when I was living around the world I maybe didn't think I would be coming back this soon, but I think it's a great place to raise our family."
That family, already consisting of Queen, her husband, and their 18-month-old daughter, is set to increase by one in a couple of months -- Queen is expecting a baby boy. So when February rolls around, the future mother of two plans to take several months off to nurture her growing family, but will eagerly anticipate her return to her career and office at city hall.
"The city is full of a lot of really dedicated people," she said. "I appreciate working next to people who care about what they do. And that goes all the way from the mayor and the city manager and the council all the way down to those of us in this staff."
It appears that the appreciation and admiration Queen feels for her peers is mutual.
"We absolutely love her," said Melanie Lewis, one of Queen's coworkers and the city's finance director. "She's always on top of things, and she's thorough. She's just fabulous."
Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche also believes that Stephanie's background and comprehensive abilities will continue to contribute to the city's improvement well into the future.
"Stephanie has an incredible skill of communicating with diverse interests -- bringing everyone to the table and having them leave satisfied that they've been heard," Micciche said. "From my point of view, there is no more important skill in municipal government."
Even though Queen's engineering training is not directly informing her job duties as city planner right now, she does not for a minute regret pursuing that avenue of education.
"Although I'm not doing any engineering now, I appreciate having that background because planning requires that you be both analytical and creative," Queen said. "In thinking about how a community can develop and grow, it's helpful to have some practical knowledge about projects and economics, while still allowing yourself to think big and be a bit visionary."
Queen's current project, the Envision Soldotna 2030 Comprehensive Plan, will see two public hearings -- one on Dec. 22 and another on Jan. 12, 2011 -- to gather comments from the residents of Soldotna and the surrounding community on the most recent draft of the plan. The meetings will be held in the council chambers at Soldotna City Hall.
Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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