Emulating Humphrey, trying to make lives better

Harrison Maxwell

When he was young, Harrison Maxwell didn't see himself as college material. He grew up in a low-income family that moved frequently around the western United States during his childhood. But Maxwell had a natural curiosity and an interest in the welfare of others. 

He became interested in learning about people from modest means like him who had gone on to make significant contributions to society. Then he discovered someone who became a hero to him. 

It was Hubert Humphrey, who grew up poor in rural South Dakota and became a champion of the disadvantaged while serving as mayor of Minneapolis, a U.S. senator from Minnesota, and vice president.

Maxwell served in the U.S. Marine Corps, then enrolled in the University of Washington, becoming the first in his family to go to college. He earned a degree in sociology, and became interested in urban planning, a field in which he would be able to improve people's lives on a large scale. 

"Urban planning is applied sociology," he says. "I could see urban planning that was not working for people—the roads with no crosswalks, bad sidewalks, no parks. I've had friends who actually died because of bad urban planning. Good urban planning can benefit communities." 

The Humphrey School 'was it'

"I found out that the public policy school at the University of Minnesota was called the Humphrey School, and that was it," says Maxwell, who earned his degree in May. 

The Humphrey School’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) has several defined concentrations and also allows students to design their own. Maxwell has combined Humphrey School courses with others from across the University for a self-defined concentration in community economic development. He minored in landscape architecture from the U's College of Design to learn placemaking skills, site analysis, and planning review—all valuable skills for a planner. 

Maxwell and three of his classmates co-produced a podcast called Veiled Truth, which examines issues in civic engagement. The group chose the podcast medium to make the discussion more accessible to more people than a journal article would be.  

Two Humphrey School internships have already kick-started Maxwell's career: one as a community development intern in Lino Lakes, north of the Twin Cities metro area; and the other as a community development intern with the city of St. Louis Park, an inner-ring suburb just west of Minneapolis. 

Maxwell has settled in the central Minnesota town of Becker, together with his life partner. He loves living there, where neighbors look after neighbors. Eventually, he would like to be a planner in St. Cloud, which is rapidly growing from a small, majority-white city to a more diverse city, with newcomers from around the world.

Maxwell says such a role would be an exciting chance to apply his skills from his Humphrey School coursework and internships, and to contribute to the community where he wants to stay and put down roots.

"I want to be a part of the transition with changing demographics. There are layers of trauma that need to be addressed,” he says. ”The Humphrey School [has given]  me the knowledge to address that in a holistic way, with well-rounded planning."