Alumni Profiles


Erin Heacock Zwirko ’04

Town Planner, Wellesley, MA

Home state: New Jersey Erin Heacock Zwirko
Graduate program: Masters, Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts University
Senior project: The Miracle Mile: Urban Revitalization in Hobokon, NJ
Internship: Morris Land Conservancy, Boonton, NJ

After graduating from COA, Erin earned her masters in urban and environmental policy and planning from Tufts University, MA. She achieved her goal of working in a municipal planning departemt when she was hired as a staff planner in 2012 by Wellesley, MA.

Why did you choose to attend COA, and what kept you here?
I choose to attend COA due to its small size, and ultimately the small size kept me at COA. I wanted a small college where I could have an excellent relationship with professors and a place where I could not feel anonymous. When I got to COA and saw what a community the college is, it definitely kept me at the school.

What was the most valuable skill you gained while at COA, and how does it influence your career today?
I think the most valuable skill I gained while at COA is to consider decisions holistically and from the perspective from many different stakeholders. Every single day at work, I have to be cognizant that the land use recommendations that I make at work will affect a variety of stakeholders in different ways. I have to try to think out how each stakeholder may respond prior to making my recommendation, and even after that, I have to realize that there is no one size fits all solution and try to convey that to all involved.

What was your favorite class at COA? Why?
My favorite class at COA was a Marine Policy class team taught by Chris Peterson and Ken Cline. I had planned on studying marine biology when I entered COA. After taking a number of land use and GIS [Geographic Information Systems] courses, and particularly after taking this class, I left marine biology behind and focused on the intersection of where land meets water. The class made me realize that this area is in extreme conflict, not only due to natural occurrences such as erosion and waves, but also our use of the area and the fight over public and private space. The class really got me thinking about how our land use policies—not even at the federal level where the class focused, but at the local level—influences the way our coastlines are forever changing.

Please describe one of your most meaningful experiences at COA.
I think one of my most meaningful experiences at COA goes along with what I described for above question. And meeting my husband at COA!

Why is a COA education still relevant—both in your own career and for current students?
COA makes students think critically. Each class I took and every learning experience I had while attending COA made me think more critically. I was applying things I learned in one class the next day in another class, and making those connections opened my eyes and mind to a more holistic learning approach.    

Is there anything else you want to make sure others know about COA?
Attending COA was one of the best experiences in my life. There isn't a day that I don't remember what an amazing place to learn and live COA is.