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Students studying flora in the field

Planning for the Future  

Paul Wack helps students enter the planning field

At a recent UCSB Environmental Studies Program event, a presenter asked, “How many people here had Paul Wack as an instructor?” Nearly the entire audience stood. Paul Wack taught his first environmental studies class at UC Santa Barbara in 1978. In his 34 years of teaching, he inspired generations of leaders. Paul’s estate gift will be added to the endowed fund he created to support students in environmental studies. 

When Paul first engaged with UC Santa Barbara’s Environmental Studies Program, he was assistant planning director of the county. Over the years, he met students through the internships he sponsored and the guest lectures he taught for colleagues. He helped form the environmental studies planning concentration at UC Santa Barbara and ran the senior thesis program as an academic advisor.

“In that role, I had a chance to expand my understanding of the environment because I was getting all these different perspectives,” said Paul. “I grew with the Environmental Studies Program as the definition of the environment expanded.” 

Paul estimates that he has taught 20,000 environmental studies students and aspiring planners at UC Santa Barbara, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Sonoma State.

He is passionate about encouraging students to bring the diversity of their experience to the field. One project he assigned asked students to design a map of their neighborhoods. Students taught Paul about their communities, and Paul gave them planning concepts to apply. 

“I made a decision years ago to do a scholarship when I retired,” said Paul, who helped lead fundraising during the Environmental Studies Program’s 50th anniversary in 2020. “I’m going to do what I can to help students who want to pursue a career in planning. If someone has that fire in their belly, this little scholarship could help.” 

The scholarship is a way for Paul to continue his impact on UC Santa Barbara and the field of planning. 

“The courses Paul taught on planning — how to design functional communities that merge people with their environment — have been central to the environmental studies program for decades,” said Professor Josh Schimel. “His classes, combined with his personal charm, humor, and magnetism, have inspired thousands of students. Every student who took one of his classes gained a deeper appreciation for the value of careful and thoughtful local planning in building sustainable societies. Many of his students were so deeply inspired that they chose to pursue careers in planning.”

Over a long career, Paul has worked with many former students as peers representing the city or county on projects or consulting with various jurisdictions. Many of those early students are now planning their own UC Santa Barbara legacies in honor of Paul. 

“As a planner, you have to have hope for the future,” said Paul, citing an Iroquois principle that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world for seven generations. “If there’s no future, there’s no planning.”