How can architects and urban planners approach sustainability and equity beyond the traditional walls of the city environment? This is what many of this year’s Dow Sustainability Fellows from Taubman College are investigating through their innovative projects.
The Dow Sustainability Fellowship at U-M supports graduate students as they work to create interdisciplinary and actionable solutions for sustainable food systems, mobility, infrastructure, energy systems, and cities. Fellows work across disciplines to develop projects on local, national, and global scales.
Dow Sustainability Fellows
Rasha Mohamed, a dual-degree student in urban planning and public policy, will be diving directly into our country’s farming and agricultural system. Her team’s project will focus on helping The Nature Conservancy meaningfully operationalize their desires to integrate more diverse, equitable, and inclusive perspectives into their strategies and projects with marginalized communities.
Before coming to the University of Michigan (U-M), Mohamed worked at a nonprofit in Flint, Michigan, supporting residents to grow and access healthy food, which sparked her interest in food systems. The fellowship provides an opportunity to connect her previous work with new understandings and skills.
“This project will give me the opportunity to better understand the inequitable foundation that our country’s agricultural system was founded on and craft solutions for change,” said Mohamed. “I’m excited to be able to use new skills developed in my time at Taubman, like GIS mapping, to bring attention to such an important issue.”
For Walter Hunt, a Master of Architecture student, the fellowship is an opportunity to expand upon the traditional boundaries of his discipline. Working with the San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, his team will develop an engagement strategy for reaching community interest groups – such as Spanish-speaking families, community college adults, and educators in high-need areas – to improve understanding and stewardship of the San Francisco Bay Estuary.
“Implementing community engagement strategies to promote science education gives me the toolkit that I need to become a civic-minded architect through advocating for the welfare beyond the built environment,” said Hunt.
Kira Barsten, a dual-degree student in urban and regional planning and at the School for Environment and Sustainability, is another fellow on the team. As someone who is from the San Francisco Bay Area, Barsten is excited to grow as a planner in an environment she is familiar with.
“This project highlights why I came to Taubman in the first place, which was to become a participatory planner focused on equitable and meaningful community engagement,” said Barsten. “With this project, I hope to learn about the ins and outs of long-term, equitable engagement strategies and relationship building. I see this as a great opportunity to tie together my passions for participatory planning and climate justice.”
The collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the fellowship is what drew Kat Cameron, a dual-degree student in urban and regional planning and at the School for Environment and Sustainability, to the program.
“As a dancer turned filmmaker turned urban planner, collaboration has long been my preferred method for working on projects, so I am grateful to have this opportunity where I can sit down with students from so many disciplines and have a discussion about what a project could look like,” said Cameron.
Cameron’s project is grounded in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, which has grown exponentially in the past five years. Her team will help develop their Prioritized Action Plan for 2022-2023, the culmination of the City’s visioning effort to generate recommendations for a sustainable Strip District community.
“I think what is most important is ensuring the existing community members’ voices are heard in all these processes,” said Cameron, who wants to contribute to the work with a planner’s lens.
Annie Linden, another dual-degree student in urban and regional planning and at the School for Environment and Sustainability, is also on the team. Like Cameron, she sees a sustainable development project as the perfect opportunity to merge the two perspectives.
“I hope this project propels me to determine what type of career I want to have post-graduation,” said Linden, who recently passed the LEED Green Associate exam. “I also lived in Pittsburgh for a year after college. As a result, I liked the idea of working in a community that I am already familiar with.”
A student in both the architecture and urban and regional planning programs, Tara Grebe chose a project that would challenge her own perception of what it means to be sustainable. She will be helping the Energy Equity Researchers Collaborative develop a supportive energy equity and justice network, aiming to build authentic relationships with BIPOC and frontline organizations.
While Grebe says the project is “a little out of my traditional wheelhouse,” it is also a chance to connect with her work at the School for Environment and Sustainability. “I’ve had an interest in renewable energy in the past, but I’ve never known how my specific skill sets applied to that field. More recently, I have also wanted to gain a better understanding of the negative effects our current energy infrastructure has on disadvantaged communities,” she said.
Dow Distinguished Awards
In addition to the Dow Fellows, two teams led by Taubman College students will receive funding through the Dow Distinguished Awards competition, designed to foster interdisciplinary collaboration and engaged learning at the graduate level. The teams will be working in South America on year-long projects, advised by urban and regional planning professor Ana Paula Pimentel Walker.
“Greening Low-Income, Self-Managed Housing Projects in Brazil” will implement schematic designs at a self-managed housing site to empower the vision of the Union of Housing Movements of São Paulo, such as planting trees, installing educational signage, and constructing communal pavilions with pervious surfaces. The team is led by Roland Amarteifio, an urban and regional planning student, and includes Shanea Condon, a dual-degree student in planning and public health.
“I believe that our team members’ abilities and experiences complement each other really well, and we all have a real passion for making a positive difference in Brazil,” said Amarteifio. “I also am excited for the opportunity to learn more about the specific context and culture, and see these amazing women in action!”
”Climate Action Planning with Biodiversity to Protect Vulnerable Human Settlements in Bucaramanga, Colombia” is led by urban and regional planning student Sarai Zelada, and includes Areli Balderrama, a dual-degree student in planning and public health. The project seeks to understand and assess how the city is incorporating policies and instruments to mitigate emissions and promote climate change adaptation.
“The two projects demonstrate the importance of global engagement and service learning to collaboratively advance human rights, climate action, and social justice,” said Pimentel Walker. “As an engaged scholar and educator, I could not be prouder.”